Coke Says “Not Me”

Coke finds itself in an awkward position. The flagship, full-sugar Coke product competes in a category weighed down by an unhealthy image. Changing consumer preferences for more healthful drinks mean that Coke Classic is destined for decline. Sage corporate strategists in Atlanta understand this and the company is feverishly diversifying its products to include healthier options. But the public response the company is voicing about criticism of its sugary drinks — in the midst of a public health crisis — seems less mature. After finally stepping forward to speak to the problem this year, their message needs some work. So far, what we’re hearing Coke say amounts to “it’s not me.”

Coke recently released an infographic that tells its story through cherry-picked statistics. The messaging is pretty clear. “People are eating more and moving less. The extra calories come from fats, grains, breads, and chicken. Sugar intake from soft drinks is down.” It’s a good thing that regulations requiring fair balance in advertising applies only to pharmaceuticals, because this really doesn’t pass the test. As legalistic self-defense, it’s masterfully constructed. As corporate responsibility advertising, it’s disappointing.

On the more brilliant end of the spectrum, Coke has unveiled its first all-digital advertising effort — a multi-year campaign focused on teens, tweens, and mobile media. The trouble is that this advertising brilliance is aimed at building a stronger attachment between these young people and Coke’s highest-sugar product. Oops.

Too many people draw a false analogy between obesity and tobacco dependence. Our experience with both tells us there are parallels and insights that can carry over. But many insights from tobacco don’t apply. The tobacco industry is dispensable. The food and beverage industry is indispensable. We need good corporate citizens in the food and beverage industry to step up to the challenge of obesity and health.

Shame and blame is a bad strategy for dealing with obesity. It stigmatizes people with a serious health problem. And it makes companies do funny things, like defending the need for 32-ounce servings of sugary beverages. Like pretending that those sugary beverages have nothing to do with obesity. Coke can do better and no doubt, they eventually will.

Click here to read more about Coke’s infographic on obesity, click here to read a view from Marion Nestle on that same infographic, click here to read more about consumer beverage trends, and click here to read about Coke’s new advertising to teens and tweens in AdAge.

Bella Looking Guilty image © Naddsy / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.