Diet Coke chooses sides in the tech culture wars

A new ad campaign hits the wrong note in the middle of San Francisco's housing crisis

Topics: Diet Coke, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Startups, tech culture wars, Gentrification, housing crisis, ,

Diet Coke chooses sides in the tech culture wars (Credit: Flickr/mogoxtheblue/telesniuk via Shutterstock/Salon)

Imagine you are a tenant’s rights activist in San Francisco, organizing to prevent evictions and increase the availability of affordable housing. It’s no easy task, attempting to resist the awesome power of tech-economy-driven gentrification. But it probably doesn’t help when the economic forces remaking the city become grist for a tongue-in-cheek Coca-Cola advertising campaign.

In recent days ads for Diet Coke that play on the city’s iconic status as the 21st century gold rush destination for the aspiring start-up entrepreneur have been showing up in the Mission and other tech culture war battle grounds.

Some examples:

You moved to San Francisco with a crowd-funded website, a dad-funded hatchback, and a no-funded bank account. You’re on Diet Coke.

You moved to San Francisco with an engineering degree, an app idea and an investor named Nana. You’re on Diet Coke.

You moved to San Francisco with an idea for a start-up, a name for a start-up and zero money for a start-up. You’re on Diet Coke.

All three scenarios take as their given that “you” — the would-be entrepreneur — are scrambling for funds. You might even be sleeping in that hatchback. And sure, there are undoubtedly more than a few young men and women in the Bay Area today looking for a couch to sleep on while they code their masterpieces.



But the economic reality of San Francisco is something different. As Nick Bilton reported in the New York Times over the weekend, “more wealth is concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area than just about any other place in the nation.”

The average base salary for tech workers is $100,000, reports Bilton, and the local housing market reflects that. In December, 40 percent of home sales in San Francisco were for cash. It’s no wonder evictions are rising and longtime tenants are freaking out.

So I wonder, just how thoroughly did Diet Coke’s advertising team think this through? As San Francisco wrestles with its own identity, does it make sense for a consumer brand to choose sides?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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