As Coca-Cola rolled out its seasonal advertising campaign in Germany, drivers on a busy street in Berlin spotted what seemed to be a familiar billboard last week.
The sign showed Coca-Cola’s image of a jolly Santa Claus, with a bottle of Coke in each hand. But the traditional holiday message, printed with the company’s logo and typeface, had an unexpected tagline: “For a peaceful time: Say no to AfD,” it read, referring to Alternative for Germany, the country’s most prominent far-right party.
Ganz stark, @CocaCola_De!?#noafd pic.twitter.com/XTiDUz0AXD
The billboard appears to have been made by Modus, a group of artists and activists who oppose what they call the country’s “shift to the right.” The group has created a collection of actions against right-wing extremism that plays on the tradition of advent calendars, which have a window for each day of the month before Christmas that hides a small present or sweet.
The online Modus advent calendar window for Dec. 3 hid a template for a letter to send to legislators calling for a stronger stance against AfD. On the next day, the calendar suggested urging big brands to get involved, with dedicated advertising. A picture of the Coca-Cola billboard was included next to the text.
After recent elections and street protests this year showed the growing strength of the far right in Germany, the poster and advent calendar came as a call for action against intolerance.
Artists have been mobilizing against the far right with sometimes spectacular and bold actions. Last year, the Center for Political Beauty, a group of artists who focus on political protest, installed a replica of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial outside the house of Björn Höcke, a far-right politician who had called the memorial “a monument of shame.” In 2015, the same group held a burial for a woman who had perished at sea on her way to Italy and whose surviving family members were seeking asylum in Germany.
Coca-Cola didn’t make the billboard, but it did not disavow its message, either. “Not every fake must be false,” Patrick Kammerer, director of public affairs and communications at Coca-Cola Germany, said on his own Twitter account, quoting a picture of the billboard. The company later retweeted Mr. Kammerer’s message.
The retweet and Mr. Kammerer’s apparent endorsement of the sign appear to have angered AfD members, who staged a mini-boycott of Coke, at least on social media.
Some AfD members posed with homemade cola brands, putting a political twist on the old Coke-Pepsi wars in the United States.
Björn Höcke, an AfD leader in Thuringia, posted a picture of himself drinking Vita Cola, a locally produced drink. “This soda is a market leader here, more beloved than Coca-Cola,” he wrote.
But some of the brands, like Fritz Kola, from Hamburg, have taken a strong stance against right-wing extremism in their advertising. Vita Cola, whose beverage was shown in Mr. Höcke’s tweet, said in a statement that it didn’t wish to be appropriated by politicians and that it stood for “openness to the world and tolerance.”
“For a healthier time, without too much sugar, #SayNoToCocaCola!,” the AfD’s treasurer, Frank Pasemann, wrote on Twitter. The party’s federal press office offered no comment on Tuesday.
Another popular brand was given a similar treatment this week. A group called the Stay Behind Foundation, which advocates democratic rights and political engagement, installed a billboard purportedly advertising for Nutella in the center of Berlin. A jar of the familiar hazelnut spread appeared with the slogan “Better brown on the bread than brown in the head,” referring to the color traditionally associated with the Nazi Party.
Follow Palko Karasz on Twitter: @karaszpalko.
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