Coke’s Super Bowl surprise: free admission to civil rights center

Atlanta-based Coke isn’t an official Super Bowl sponsor, but its presence will be felt near the stadium.

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Coca-Cola announced Thursday that it is paying for a month of free public admission to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, located near gathering spots for Super Bowl events prior to the game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Coke says the move, made possible by a $1 million donation from the Coca-Cola Foundation, isn’t a marketing push. For that, it simultaneously announced plans to air a commercial just before the start of the Super Bowl. The company also said it plans to light up its Atlanta headquarters tower in red from Jan. 31 through the Feb. 3 Super Bowl.

Still, the grant to the non-profit civil rights center will give Coke a fresh connection to visitors rolling in for the game, which is being officially sponsored by rival PepsiCo.

The center, like the World of Coca-Cola, sits near Centennial Olympic Park where the NFL and PepsiCo have pumped up their own marketing. One message emblazoned on Pepsi signs near some of Coke's favorite spots: "Pepsi in Atlanta. How refreshing." Pepsi also plans to sponsor a local concert, as well as the Super Bowl's halftime show, and has several TV spots lined up to air during the game.

Visitors to the civil rights center will be notified that their admission is a result of a gift from the Coca-Cola Foundation, said Brian Tolleson, the center’s interim chief executive officer.

The free admission starts Monday and runs through the end of February. Adult admission is usually $19.99, not including taxes.

Tolleson said he can’t project how many people will visit during that period, but he expects it to be in the tens of thousands.

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“This is really going to help us exponentially impact sharing Atlanta’s story and civil and human rights stories with visitors to the Super Bowl and beyond,” he said.

He said he already had been expecting a bump in visits tied to Super Bowl visitors. And Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has scheduled a private reception in the center for NFL owners.

The civil rights center typically gets about 250,000 visitors a year, according to Tolleson. FedEx, a Super Bowl sponsor, is sponsoring a free admission day at the center on Feb. 2, the day before the Super Bowl.

Coke has a long connection to the center, including donating the site it sits on.

Themes of celebrating diversity and inclusion are central to Coke’s latest Super Bowl-related TV commercial, according to Brynn Bardacke, the company’s vice president for content and creative excellence in North America.

This year, the company’s 60-second TV spot is an animated production showing various people and fantastical creatures such as a “bird girl” and what the company refers to as “Freddy the Yeti.”

Slated to air just before the national anthem, this will be the first time in 13 years that Coke hasn’t had a TV spot within the actual game window.

In an emailed statement, Coke marketing executive Jennifer Healan said, this year’s commercial, “within the context of what’s happening in our country today, felt best suited to a pre-game spot, setting the stage with an optimistic message of unity.”

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