Coca-Cola Washes Hands of New Orleans Graffiti Campaign

On the Thursday night before this past weekend's NCAA Final Four matchups in New Orleans, street teams hired by an ad agency working on behalf of Coca-Cola stenciled ads for Coca-Cola Zero on flagstone sidewalk panels and cement surfaces in the French Quarter, the Central Business District and Treme. Great idea, as far as building awareness for Zero goes—the ads were stenciled without permission from the city and the resulting flap has made the campaign a national story. Only problem is this probably wasn't the kind of awareness Coca-Cola was seeking.

To make matters worse, Coca-Cola shifted the responsibility for breaking city ordinances to the ad agency. Even if Coca-Cola bears zero (no pun intended) responsibility for the guerrilla campaign, it's difficult to see how pointing the finger in any way reflects well on the brand.

A Coca-Cola spokesman based in Jefferson Parish told The Times-Picayune that the company hadn't authorized the ad agency to go ahead with the guerrilla campaign. He also told New Orleans-based WWLTV, "Essentially there was a miscommunication between our (New York advertising) agency of what the permit that they saw from the city allowed, but it was clearly a miscommunication on the part of our agency. When we learned of their misinterpretation, we moved very quickly and expeditiously to send out crews to remove the stencils that they had placed."

Had Coca-Cola merely taken responsibility for breaking city ordinances with its own campaign for its own product, the fallout would have been much less severe—and widespread.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI