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The Flashy Humblebrag

In order to sprinkle the glitz and glamour all over the marketing industry as we see it, the brand magicians are barely lazy. The job is not as simple as decorating the brand with flashy ornaments on an unthemed Christmas tree, it is about maintaining consistency, stating a message loudly yet with just enough modesty. With that said, I have been tiptoeing into this profession, learning to master the art of bragging.

Advertising is essentially bragging, the creative and artistic of the kind. It is easy to brag but it is hard to ensure that people will not hate you. The art of false modesty takes an expert and to illustrate that, let us evaluate the level of humble bragging expertise that Coca-Cola Vietnam displayed in their latest announcement.

‘I have done something good.’

Since the entrance of a dangerous virus in late 2019, all the buzz around the world has rapidly condensed into ‘COVID-19’ (WHO 2020a). With its destructive power quickly turned the situation into a global pandemic at high speed, the virus brings out problems from all aspects including social, cultural and economic implications (WHO 2020b). The marketing industry does not escape this realm because when comes a crisis, brands need a response.

‘Pause all advertising activities, we turn to our community.’ (Reproduced from Coca-Cola 2020)

‘We will paue all advertising activities.

We are facing a very challenging period, Coca-Cola Vietnam will do everything in our power to support our community.

From today, advertisements from our company as well as our brands in Vietnam will be paused for at least a month to gather our resources in support of the mission against COVID-19.

As the first step, the budget of 7 billion VND will be donated to the Vietnam Red Cross Society for medical supply, sanitisers, food and drinks for the medical team and affected community.

Together, we will make positive changes.’

(Reproduced from Coca-Cola 2020)

The extremity around COVID-19 ordered everything to change (Whiteside 2020). As soon as the situation seemed cloudy in Vietnam, Coca-Cola publicly made their move. On March 20th, Coca-Cola sent press releases and announced the above message across all their owned media (Journey Staff 2020). The 7 billion VND that was supposed to buy flashy advertising space was, instead, spent on medical supplies to help our community combat the virus (Ha 2020). They earned their right to brag yet the conflict lies between doing the good and appearing just as good. Expectedly, the announcement soon received its recognition but the buzz was a heated debate with vastly contrasting and sarcastic comments.

When It Pays Off

This is not a revolutionary act. Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) is a tradition. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic paths ways for brands to emerge on their social-oriented missions (Le 2020).

Considering the materialistic value of their donation, Coca-Cola is not far better than other forerunning organisations. However, assessing the media effects, they have made a considerably bigger leap. As a clever humble brag, it is mind-blowing for Coca-Cola to say that they are not going to advertise but still ‘advertise’ in subtext. Pausing advertising does not mean suspending the whole marketing department. By reallocating the budget from direct advertisement to CSR, Coca-Cola revisits the very basic rule of communication, meets consumers where they are (Ostler & Seitz 2020).

Alongside other FMCG brands, ad spend is moving online (McDonald & Clapp 2020). While many advertisers are struggling with their advertising budget management, Coca-Cola took the stage. Just a few hours after posting on Facebook, they have already gained 17.000 reactions and 1.000 comments (T.D 2020). The number is now 21.000 reactions, 1.100 comments and 2.700 shares.

Reproduced from Coca-Cola 2020

Since Coca-Cola sells through third-party retailers, it is essential that they continue enhancing brand values with consumers on other platforms. In this regard, Coca-Cola does not only meet consumers at the right touch points but also on an emotional note.

COVID-19 made a special stage for brands to shine. Crisis is undesirable but realistically, this is the best time to let people know what your brand truly values and those values have to stand firmly at this point (Brands Vietnam 2020). People are now actually expecting brands to step up that stage and take the lead (Sheridan et al. 2020). Brands tell stories from their advertisements, thus, it always has economic and social value. In this critical time, the stories they tell really matter to all. Since their establishment, Coca-Cola has been promoting a sense of community as their defining element. Fast forward to their recent announcement, it said nothing less than their community-oriented spirit.

Moreover, Coca-Cola strategy also parallels with the national pride that is on an upward trajectory (Ostler & Seitz 2020). Due to the scope of the unfortunate event, consumers now put extra trust in the hand of a combined business and government approach (Clapp 2020). The credit brand earns today is something that will last long after the outbreak.

And most importantly, CSR is about society. Coca-Cola, as the first brand to raise the voice, has created a domino effect (T.D 2020). As it earned media from both consumers and the press, Coca-Cola challenged other brands and asked for their response. This competition in the marketing realm has a positive byproduct and that is financial and emotional support to those in need.

When It Backfires

Difficult times create heroes. But we do not have time for heroes who seek credits. That is why CSR is tricky to show off. It is too easy to fall into the ‘hero trap’ (Kolster 2020). In this case, the superman cape that Coca-Cola put on for itself might as well be something that pulled it down. Despite a great donation, given the current scandals they are facing, bragging seems to suggest a more selfish motivation than highlighting the act of generosity from a multibillion brand (Small 2015).

Last year, Coca-Cola was fined by the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism for an inappropriate advertisement. Besides having to pay 25 million VND, the brand was also asked to change the tagline and remove all related advertising materials from all media (Nguyen 2019). ‘Is it an honest mistake?’ is a very debatable question for an experienced brand to make a simple mistake. This scandal put a question mark on Coca-Cola’s brand value and how much does it synchronise with the value of Vietnamese consumers.

The circulation of information named Coca-Cola as ‘lacking a sense of responsibility for community’ (Le 2020). For the past years, this brand has been under investigation for several types of tax invasions. Hence, when the executive decision was made to brag about the 7 billion donation, it just came across as pretentious. Not to appear as ungrateful because in the middle of the fight against COVID-19 is undoubtedly precious. However, this number is nowhere compared to the 350 billion that this ‘big man’ owes taxes (Le 2020).

In The End

Let us just conclude that CSR is complicated. Although in the end society gets its benefit, the brand still has to find a balance between its good deed and the story to tell. As a humble brag, Coca-Cola has definitely earned its awareness but the attitude went both ways. The situation created a contrast between press release coverage and the actual discussion from consumers. By this point, we should all have learnt a thing or two. This pandemic is simply not a time for self-promotion, ‘acts not ads’ (Handley 2020). What brands do right now will follow them to the other side (Ostler & Seitz 2020) . As eternal as it may seem, there will be a day-after. The plan after is just as important as the plan right now. And as Coca-Cola is in its advertising hiatus, they might as well think of a solution for all these backlashes.

Reference List

Brands Vietnam 2020, ‘Năm bước làm chủ hoạt động truyền thông trong thời dịch bệnh’, Brands Vietnam, 27 March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Clapp, R 2020, ‘Consumers expect businesses to step-up and help tackle COVID-19’, WARC, March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Ha, M 2020, ‘Coca-Cola tạm dừng quảng cáo, tập trung nguồn lực phòng chống dịch Covid-19’, Thanh Nien, 20 March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Handley, L 2020, ‘‘Acts not ads’: How firms should market themselves during the coronavirus crisis’, CNBC, 31 March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Journey Staff 2020, ‘Coca-Cola Việt Nam tạm dừng các hoạt động quảng cáo để quyên góp ngân sách tiếp thị cho Trung ương Hội Chữ thập đỏ Việt Nam, hỗ trợ công tác phòng, chống dịch COVID-19’, CocaCola Journey, 20 March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.


Le, G 2020, ‘Sáng kiến CSR lan tỏa giữa mùa dịch Covid-19’, Forbes Vietnam, 12 April, viewed 13 April 2020, <>.

McDonald, J & Clapp, R 2020, ‘Global Ad Trends: FMCG & COVID-19’, WARC, March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Nguyen, T 2019, ‘'Mở lon Việt Nam' của Coca Cola vì sao bị cấm?’, Thanh Nien, 29 June, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Ostler, J & Seitz, M 2020, ‘What, where and how much? Media effectiveness during COVID-19’, WARC, March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>

Sheridan, A, Debia, A, Tian, L, Franke, L & Rodgers, R 2020, ‘COVID-19: The creative fightback’, WARC, March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Small, D 2015, ‘To Brag or Not: When It Pays, When It Backfires’, Wharton University of Pennsylvania, 24 June, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

T.D 2020, ‘Đại gia Coca-Cola tuyên bố “ngừng quảng cáo 1 tháng", chuyển 7 tỷ đồng chống Covid: Giới marketing khen thông minh, dân mạng thi nhau “cà khịa”, CafeF, 21 March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

WHO 2020a, Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) - SITUATION REPORT-1, World Health Organization, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

WHO 2020b, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) - SITUATION REPORT-83, World Health Organization, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.

Whiteside, S 2020, ‘Corporate ethics and the COVID-19 crisis’, WARC, 12 March, viewed 10 April 2020, <>.


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