DUBAI: An online video showing labour camps with Coca-Cola phone booths, into which bottle tops rather than coins are fed to pay for international calls, has gone viral.
But opinions on the video, posted on YouTube, have been mixed.
Hello Happiness, an almost three-minute advertisement, shows the phones being set up at a workers’ accommodation, with the men receiving three-minute calls to their families whenever they feed in the bottle tops.
Coca-Cola set up five call boxes operating 10 hours a day from March 21 to April 21 in unspecified labour camps in Dubai. In that time 134,484 minutes of calls were logged.
“The objective was to cater to their needs both emotionally and in a functional manner. We taught the labourers how to utilise the booth, however no promotional or sales agenda was pushed.”
The video also features interviews in which the men praise the phone booths for giving them an affordable way of contacting their loved ones.
It has been viewed 11 lac times on youTube and got 6000 likes and 471 thumbs down.
Iain Akerman, editor of advertising-industry magazine Campaign Middle East, said the fact the apparent corporate social responsibility initiative was promoted in the form of an advert could cause people to question the company’s motives.
“I’m cynical about most advertising that is charitable in nature,” Mr Akerman said. “Most brands and agencies benefit more from such work than the recipients. And if it’s genuinely charitable, why the need to promote it?
“Any form of corporate social responsibility should not be about making the brand look good but about making a genuine difference to people’s lives.
“It would, however, be unfair to pick solely on this campaign as it is part of a much wider issue that relates to the relationship between advertising, brands and charities.”
The advert says that labourers can sometimes pay Dh3.34 a minute for calls to the Indian subcontinent, making contact with their families infrequent.
The video suggests the average wage for labourers was about Dh22 a day. A 500ml bottle of Coke costs about Dh2.
“I’ve saved one more cap so I can call my wife again tomorrow,” one labourer says.
Facing criticism on Twitter users have lambasted Coke for using the poor working conditions and meagre pay of laborers in the Persian Gulf, as a tool to increase brand awareness.
Coke says “the conversation” on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter has 95% been positive. Other charitable and corporate-driven campaigns for construction workers are also common in the United Arab Emirates.
Coke has significantly upped its digital presence in the Middle East in recent years and now spends a greater percentage of its advertising budget on digital in this region than in any other part of the world.