Oh Napkin, How Dare You?

Graphic of a stern woman, in a pink shirt.

Coca-Cola’s 2014-18 Share a Coke campaign was a stroke of marketing and human interest genius.

The campaign ads encouraged Coca-Cola drinkers to share a Coke with someone named on a bottle or can, and to build a relationship around drinking it, consistent with their friendly, dewy ads that make us all a little bit happier and thirstier. It’s become clear that rather than the Coke, it’s the relationships and nostalgia in the ads that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, something we’re sorely missing these days.

Coca-Cola is so concerned about the lack of human connection that the company collaborated with Delta Airlines to create a napkin that could help people break the ice and get to know each other on long flights, maybe even go on a date after and find eternal bliss.

The napkins say on the front, “because you’re on a plane full of interesting people and hey…you never know.” The backside of the napkin includes space for your chosen one to write their name and phone number.

In small print along the length of the napkins, are instructions for how to use them as a flirting prop: “be a little old school. write down your number and give it to your plane crush. you never know…”

Source: Twitter, @beyouonlybetter

The project, however, did not receive the positive response it likely expected from Delta passengers. Instead, fliers began tweeting images of the napkins, calling them “creepy” as well as a “swing, and a miss.” Some even described the napkins as coercive. The controversy, however, feeds into a larger paradox.

In romantic comedy films, it’s almost expected for a scene to include someone writing down their phone number for a potential partner at a bar or restaurant. Had my boyfriend asked me to write my phone number down on a dirty bar napkin the night we met, we might have gotten a head start on our story. He didn’t, and I had to wait two weeks to see him again.

Of course, there is a stark contrast between romantic films and reality, but do we not watch those films to block our reality for 90 minutes? Why do we crave love and human connections in films, but work so hard to reject them in our own lives?

These are hypersensitive times where we are increasingly aware of the ways that people can feel targeted by others – allegations of blackface, sexual assault, and other human crises are cause for concern and action. Napkins are not.

Someday, I hope to live in a world where the most offensive thing is a flirtatious napkin.