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Coca-Cola denies it withdrew ad featuring Basque actor with “ETA sympathies”

Company says TV campaign had come to an end because it was not generating adequate results

Actor Gotzon Sánchez (right) in the TV commercial.
Actor Gotzon Sánchez (right) in the TV commercial.

A day after Coca-Cola reportedly pulled a Spanish TV campaign featuring a Basque actor with alleged sympathies for Basque terrorist group ETA, a company spokesman contradicted the reports, saying it had “not withdrawn” the commercials.

The ads had “a period of life” that had come to an end because they were not delivering adequate results, explained Gonzalo Márquez, the soft drinks firm’s communications manager for the north of Spain.

Speaking in Bilbao on Thursday, Gonzalo Márquez also said that the company considered “complete and total respect for all types of sensitivities and liberties across the world” to be a fundamental issue.

“We have seen ourselves caught up in a controversy that we neither looked for nor provoked,” he said.

“The basis” of the story about Coca-Cola pulling the ads is “fictitious, it is not true,” said a company spokesman

Coca-Cola was reported to have pulled the commercials after a terrorism victims’ association filed a complaint that they featured a Basque actor named Gotzon Sánchez, who has “publicly and manifestly expressed sympathy for” Herrira, a support group for ETA convicts that was shut down by the Spanish High Court last September for funding and glorifying terrorism.

Gonzalo Márquez said the company had been in contact with the actor on Wednesday to apologize, and that, like him, it had been “bewildered and overwhelmed” by the “enormous controversy.” It also said it would help Sánchez however it could and would “always” be with him.

He added that “the basis” of the story that circulated on Wednesday about Coca-Cola pulling the ads was “fictitious, it is not true.”

Basque regional government spokesman Josu Erkoreka on Thursday said that Sánchez’s political declarations were neither “negative nor damaging” to other people, and thus he was surprised by the controversy they had stirred up.

Gonzalo Márquez said the company could not rule out “bad faith” behind the incident.

He pointed out that Coca-Cola had liked the ads, in which Sánchez plays a Real Madrid fan whose son tells him he is switching team allegiances to rival club Atlético Madrid. He noted that it had raised “minor controversy with other supporters of Barcelona and [Real] Madrid, who didn’t really understand why the commercial was only backing Atlético de Madrid.”

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