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Anyone Buying The Guilt-Free Coke?

The invention of Coca Cola.

When Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton invented Coca Cola in 1886, chances are he couldn’t have imagined that one day in the distant future:

–       A major news organization, CNN, would report that obesity had become a bigger problem than hunger*

–       That the mayor of New York, distraught about the ever-expanding waist size of his constituents, would declare war on jumbo soft drinks*

–       And that the giant company that grew from his own concoction – whipped up, by the way, in a brass kettle in Pemberton’s backyard – would be forced to launch a revolutionary marketing strategy to retain its popularity and bolster its brand.

Yet that’s exactly where things stand today. In fact, if the trend continues, 13 states could have adult obesity rates above 60 percent by 2030, according to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Coke gets it, plain and simple.

The company has unveiled a proactive ad that says you can have your drink and swallow it without feeling guilty. The key message Coke’s two minute “Coming Together” video is that the company that’s been “bringing people together for 125 years” has now stepped up to unite us to attack obesity. “As the nation’s leading beverage company, we can play an important role,” the ad says.

Coke offers 650 different soft drinks; 180 have low or no calories. There are smaller sizes, and the calorie count is now front and center. The soft drink industry’s “voluntarily” adjustment of drinks provided for sale in elementary, middle and high schools has resulted in a 90 percent reduction in calories from beverages since 2004, Coke says.

As might be expected, the campaign has not exactly been embraced in all quarters. “An exercise in damage control,” says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In cyberspace, Danielle Nirenberg tweeted, “Oh, the irony. Coke ad calls on everyone to fight fat.”

On the other hand, the company has wisely recognized it could not simply be part of the problem.

While profits are certainly a key part of the equation, Coke has come up with healthier choices and supported health-minded endeavors like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Now – despite the schmaltzy music and melodic narrator – the company has also taken a masterful step toward enhancing its image, while gently reminding everyone that it’s a little heavy-handed to blame all those pounds on Coke.

Hidden within the ad is a key point: “All calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca Cola and everything else with calories. And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you’ll gain weight.”

Translation: Don’t blame us; exercise more and have a Dasani once in a while.

Of course the water fountain is another option.

* CNN Report

* Soft Drink Info

Steve Piacente is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.

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15 Responses to "Anyone Buying The Guilt-Free Coke?"

  1. Barbara Briggs Ward says:

    Smart marketing-probably part of why Coke has been around so long! If, as a brand, you can’t change with the times, you’re likely to fail, especially in this age of instant information. Great article Steve!

  2. Deniz Sonmez-Alpan says:

    This is super. It really says something when a giant company like Coca Cola not only admits to being part of the obesity problem but in addition, takes active steps to rectify a growing issue in the United States. It improves their image by providing the “we’re human” factor and getting rid of any thought that just because they’re huge, they don’t have to help or say something. Great insight, Professor Piacente!

  3. J. David Bethel says:

    Bottom line: We’re all responsible for our own behavior.

  4. Rebecca Vander Linde says:

    Great points! I agree that it’s a smart tact for Coke to use this ad to say they should not be the nation’s obesity scapegoat while also emphasizing the company’s efforts to reduce its impact on obesity. Combining the two messages was key to the ad’s success. Simply saying, “It’s not all our fault” without the “but here is how we are helping, and here is what you can do” would have failed.

  5. C.A. Morehouse says:

    Great article, Steve.

    People like to blame institutions, corporations and their upbringing for their goofball choices.

    It isn’t Coke’s fault or the size of the drink (stuff it Mr. Bloomberg) that makes people fat. But, I do applaud Coke for trying to be part of the solution.


  6. They certainly got out front of it. Thanks for dropping by, Barbara.

  7. It’ll be interesting to look back a year from now and see where things stand, Deniz. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Self-accountability. Good point, David, and thanks for weighing in.

  9. Would have been interesting to have been in on the strategy sessions that produced the ads, Rebecca. Appreciate your comments.

  10. You’re aligned with the reader who says we’re all responsible for our own choices, C.A. That seems to be the prevailing viewpoint so far. Anyone disagree?

  11. Deniz, the Center for Science in the Public Interest tweeted me a link to their “translation” of the Coke ad. Worth a look: ow.ly/htd3T

  12. Sabrynne McLain says:

    Yes, everyone should take responsibility for their choices, but I think there is a psychological barrier with extremely high sugar drinks. Men, especially, don’t understand just how many thousands of calories they are consuming with Coke, Pepsi etc. I’m not saying women are smarter, just that we are a lot more calorie conscious (because we’ve been programmed to calorie-count from birth).

    I personally know of three men who simply replaced their Cokes with water or unsweetened tea and lost a ton of weight. Drinking doesn’t give you the same oral satisfaction as eating, so lot of people don’t realize how many calories they are consuming in a day when they drink 5-10 cans of Coke without even thinking about it. Plus sugar is terrible for you for so many reasons that I’m not going to go in them here. I realize it’s next to impossible because food companies pile sugar in so many things, but if you got rid of sugar in your diet (forget about fat) you would be massively better off and live longer (and be thinner).

  13. Your comment got me wondering, Sabrynne. A quick search turned up the fact that obesity prevalence does not differ between men and women. Here’s the info, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db82.htm
    That said, replacing soda with water or unsweetened tea is a great idea!

  14. Julie Elizabeth Powell (pen) says:

    In the UK, we’ve just been told that Diet Coke is worse that the original because of the chemicals…I suppose anything is bad for you in excess.

  15. I agree, Julie; moderation is smart. Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation!

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