Coca-Cola’s “Beating Obesity Will Take All of Us” ad published in USA Today on 5/16. In it, Coke promises they will play an important role in the fight against obesity by 1) offering low and no-calorie beverage options in every market, 2) provide transparent nutrition information like featuring calories on the front of all of their packages, 3) help get people moving by supporting physical activity programs in every country where they do business, 4) market responsibility including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world and 5) by “creating awareness around choice, helping consumers make the most informed decisions for themselves and their families, and by inspiring people everywhere to find the fun in the moment.”
If I may, I am going to go ahead and translate:
1) “Offering low and no-calorie beverage options in every market” means sell diet soda where they hadn’t before, increasing sales of both diet and regular soda as a result. For example, while 41% of all Coca-Cola drinks bought in the US are for one of the brand’s low-calorie varieties, in China its estimated that diet drinks account for less than 10% of overall sales, leaving lots of room for growth (source here).
2) Saying “provide transparent nutrition information” when all you mean is “put calorie counts on the front of packages” is like saying “give everyone a new car” when all you mean is “show everyone a commercial for Carmax.com.” Front of pack labeling isn’t applause worthy, it’s becoming the norm in the food industry as food manufacturers are trying to pre-empt the FDA regulation that is being developed on this issue. There is still lots of nutrition information you won’t see on Coke labels, like how drinking one can of soda a day raises diabetes risk by 18% or how adults now consume 13% of their calories in the form of added sugar.
3) “Help get people moving by supporting physical activity programs in every country where we do business” is another way of saying “advertise all over the world in schools and gyms and parks and where ever people come together to do physical activity in their communities,” because you had better believe Coke is not going to host an event without plastering their name everywhere and handing out some of their products. And, while I don’t have the numbers, I am pretty sure that when you compare Coke’s spending on these feel-good activities to their entire operating budget for global marketing, the cost of “supporting physical activity programs” is pretty insignificant, unlike the returns.
A few years ago I spent some time tutoring in an elementary school in South Africa. Coke had graciously paid for the school’s sign in the front of the building, including their logo on the sign, because why be philanthropic if no one know’s whose doing the philanthropy? Unfortunately, the combination of poor diet and lack of proper health coverage in this community meant that many of the kids at the school had seriously rotted baby teeth. I learned later, speaking with a dentist in the States, that while the baby teeth fall out, this sort of damage also impacts the permanent teeth that follow. These kids needed toothbrushes, not soda. But that would have been real philanthropy.
4) “Market responsibly including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world,” except when Coke doesn’t feel like it. See story about the elementary school above as well as Dr. Freedhoff’s article on Coke’s “Santa’s Helper” smart phone game designed for the 4+ crowd here.
And finally, 5) “Creating awareness around choice, helping consumers make the most informed decisions for themselves and their families, and by inspiring people everywhere to find the fun in the moment.” Restated? Corporate speak for blaming consumers for eating too much and moving too little. See previous post on Coke’s anti-chair commercial here.
In case the USA Today ad still has you feeling warm and fizzy about soda and reading this post actually has you thinking about grabbing a can to go with your lunch, here is Exhibit B:
A 2011 document produced by Coca-Cola, detailing the increase in per capita consumption of Coke products in different countries around the world. In the lower left corner are the stats for worldwide consumption. In the two decades between 1991 and 2011, global consumption more than doubled. But in the US, consumption has stayed steady for the last 10 years, even falling slightly. This tells me two things.
1) Coke is in the business of selling Coke and they are very good at what they do. As a profit-making organization, there is no reason to think that they won’t do whatever they can to see Coke consumption double once again over the next 20 years.
2) That doubling isn’t going to take place in the supersaturated States and its going to take more then their low/no-calorie portfolio; Coke will need to focus its marketing of both low/no-calorie and regular beverages overseas to make that happen. Which is why they are happy to take out a whole-page ad in USA Today to brag about their anti-obesity initiatives; they weren’t going to convince American readers to drink an additional regular Coke today anyway.