Tuesday, December 20, 2005

polar bears and penguins

Dear Coca-Cola Company,

While I have been known to enjoy your products, and never those of your competitor, I am saddened by the misinformation you are spreading in your current advertising campaign. I am referring to the television spot in which you show a family of polar bears who espy a partying penguins and slide down the hill to join the merriment. It's a very cute advert, but is totally factually wrong. And it contributes to the misconceptions I see my students exhibit. For this reason, I am asking you to correct your advertisement and make amends by providing some educational material about polar bears.

First off, what's wrong? It's very simple really. Polar bears only live in the Arctic (the northern Hemisphere), while penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, principally the Antarctic. Thus, the chances of a wild polar bear happening on a penguin are zero. Maybe you are saying that everyone already knows that, why does it matter if we take a little creative license with our art? Because, sadly, not everyone knows this. I had a student who suggested in a paper that the native peoples of Antarctica would do well to make clothing out of polar bear skins.

If you don't believe me, ask others. Here's a quote from Polar Bears International:
One final misconception is that polar bears live at both poles. The belief is common among school children, who grow up seeing illustrations of penguins and polar bears together. Polar bears, of course, live only in the circumpolar North. They never encounter penguins, which do not live in the same regions as polar bears.
Polar bears are a potentially endangered species, with an estimated population of 22,000 to 25,000 worldwide, about 60% of which live in Canada. Most sport hunting is now banned by international treaty, but polar bears face increasing threat from shrinking Arctic sea ice as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Polar bears also have high levels of PCBs and other pollutants in their bodies as a result of the distillation of atmospheric pollutants from all over the world. These pollutants may be the cause of higher juvenile mortality rates and suppressed immune system functions.

One of my earliest memories is of a trip to Churchill, Manitoba when I was four. We saw polar bears along the shore of Hudson Bay, and I slid down a slide shaped like a polar bear. I especially remember a post card of a polar bear looking in the window of our hotel. The next time I saw a polar bear in the wild was at age 23 from a plane window on the ice south of Ellesmere Island. These are memories I will always cherish. But most people will never see a polar bear in the wild, which is why they need the images that they see on TV to be truthful. And that's where Coca Cola Company has a responsibility to their customers.

By choosing to use the polar bear as your corporate mascot, you also chose to tie your company's fortunes to that species. Endangerment or extinction of your mascot would be bad PR. Instead, create some good public relations and media for your company. Start with the simple: Polar bears live at the North Pole, while penguins live in the south. Then tackle the more complex: Educate the public about the threats facing polar bears. Adjust your corporate operations (manufacturing, marketing, etc.) to reduce Coca Cola's impact on the Arctic and on polar bears. Lead by example, and future generations of children will know the magic of the bears.

17 comments:

post-doc said...

Sadly, I did not realize there were no polar bears at the south pole. So Coca-Cola and Christmas wrapping paper are apparently not where I should get my information about which animals live together. When I'm back to high-speed internet, I'll check out some of your links so I'm not so woefully ignorant again. Thanks!

Starving for Wisdom said...

I thought I was one of the only people that was truly and deeply annoyed by this. Chilly Willy, the cartoon, always bothered me too.

Astroprof said...

I don't really pay much attention to commercials, but after seeing this one several times, it dawned on me, too, that they had two species in the same commercial that never meet one another. Maybe that's the power of Coke?

Of course, I don't know if it'd have the same appeal with penguins and sea lions.

This reminds me of a GM (I think?) commercial where the announcer was talking about how a certain car was so powerful that it could make the Earth stop spinning towards the west, ... Well, it doesn't spin towards the west! The Earth spins towards the east, which is why the Sun rises in that direction!

ScienceGeek said...

I agree that the commercial is inaccurate but it's still cute which is probably more so what they were going for rather than an educational lesson. After all, where ever would the penguins get a bottle of coke and why isn't it frozen? There is a lot wrong with that commercial.

Ms.PhD said...

I like r's point about the coke not being frozen.

I guess it never bothered me since they're frequently near each other in zoos, and that is the only place I've ever seen either of these species. But thanks for the righteous indignation- it made me smile. =-)

Anonymous said...

I was so happy to see your blog!
I was watching the Biography Channel on A&E and they were doing a year-end in movie reviews. The announcer said that "March of the Penguins" was an Arctic Tale FALSE!!! Penguins only live in the Southern hempisphere of course. I couldn't believe it. Maybe those coca cola ads are really warping everyone's perceptions about these species.

I'm not a scientist, (I'm a graphic designer with a love for polar climates), it just makes me furious that these corporations are promoting inaccurate information!

Keep putting the word out there, maybe someday people will know the difference!

Thanks for your page. -Carol

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your blog! You helped me to prove my english teacher wrong!

Melissa said...

Thanks for the post! That commercial always annoyed me. They shouldn't be allowed to do stuff like that when it is factually wrong.

Anonymous said...

It's a cute commercial...trying to make a point of world peace. Why bash it? There are some really horrible commercials out there...go bash them! It's amazing what people will complain about!

Anonymous said...

Get a life...it is a TV commercial. Why not say Polar Bears and Penguins don't drink Coke? There are more important things to worry about.

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Raymond DeBrane said...

The worst inaccuracy of this commerical is that if any human or any animal was in that kind of cold, they wouldn't want something cold to drink. That would make them colder! Starbucks should do an ad for their hot coffee using penguins and polar bears!

Anonymous said...

Discovery channel's Frozen Planet, Summer episode, the first couple minutes cleary show a polar bear swimming in the ocean, large ice sheet in back ground; then all of a sudden, without a word from the Narrator Alec Baldwin, a penguin pops out of the water, swimming across the screen. I was shocked since polar bears and penguins' natural habitats are in opposite hemispheres. I understand some penguins have been introduced by man to an island off Greenland