Andy Morton

In the Spotlight - Coca-Cola Co's Anti-Obesity Drive

By | 17 January 2013

The Coca-Cola Co launched its ad on Monday

The Coca-Cola Co launched its ad on Monday

It wasn't exactly a bolt from the blue, but when the Coca-Cola Co launched a two-minute anti-obesity ad on Monday, more than a few eyebrows were raised. 

The group has decided to go on a high-profile offensive over an issue that continues to dog the industry. From New York City's ban on large soda containers to attempts to impose sugar taxes on beverages, attacks on soft drinks companies increased last year. 

Did Coca-Cola's ad signal that 2013 is the year it takes a different tack on the issue? 

blog in the Atlantic praised the ad's polish. “It's a tonal 360-degrees from those soda industry-funded ads decrying (in heavy Noo Yawk accents) mayor Michael Bloomberg's soda ban,” David Wagner said.

There was further praise elsewhere, though not quite in the same spirit. Huffington Post columnist Nancy Huehnergarth called the ad “brilliant”, before lambasting Coca-Cola's media savvy and ability to pull off what she calls “a steady drumbeat of feel-good, misleading marketing”.

“Big Soda spends big dollars on these types of campaigns, because they work,” Huehnergarth said. 

Her displeasure at the advert was joined by a chorus of boo-boys who lined up to attack Coca-Cola.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a critic of the industry, said the ad was like "a full-blown exercise in damage control”.

Jacobson also said that Coca-Cola was “trying to pretend they're part of the solution”, and urged the company to raise the price of its full-sugar products to help cut obesity rates in the US.

Susan Milligan in the US News & World Report branded the ad hypocritical because it featured “healthy-looking, slender, and athletic people”. “It misses the point,” she added. “If you want to make more responsible food choices, don't drink sugared sodas at all.”

Coca-Cola is unlikely to advocate that in its next advert (in fact, its next advert was launched last night and features ideas on how to burn off the calories in a soda). But it may harbour the feeling that even if it did, critics would still not be silenced.

Earlier this month, the American Beverage Association (ABA) hit back at news reports citing unpublished research that linked drinking soda with depression. “We may be in a new year, but there is nothing new about the ways our critics try to attack our industry,” the association said. Meanwhile, this week the ABA also defended energy drinks after some reports linked them to emergency visits to hospital.

Coca-Cola may say it is taking a bold stance in the fight against obesity. But when it comes to the people seeking the end of sugary drinks altogether, it is likely to be damned even if it doesn't stand up to be counted. 

Expert analysis

Carbonates in the US

Health and wellness is a growing factor in consumer purchasing decisions as two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. Obesity is a growing danger in the US and there has been an attempt to prevent it from a younger age. The launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign in 2010 is one such program that targets stopping obesity through building healthy habits. One of the strategies to combat childhood obesity is to eat healthy and reduce the amount of sugar and calories.

Sectors: Corporate social responsibility (CSR), Soft drinks

Companies: Coca-Cola Co

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