What is the first sign that the holidays are around the corner? The first decorations going up in the shops and supermarkets? When the radio stations start playing holiday-themed music?
For many of us, it’s the moment when we see that familiar fleet of twinkling Coca‑Cola trucks make their way across our television screen to bring light and joy (and plenty of sugary Coke!) to the masses. Though the Christmas themed trucks are a fairly recent tradition, Coca-Cola has been associating their products with Santa Claus and the holiday season since the 1930’s. Which is why it seems ridiculous that the company claims not to market their products to children.
Earlier this year, the Coca-Cola Company released a frenzy of media activity surrounding their global plan to tackle obesity. This included a promise not to advertise to children under 12 anywhere in the world. Coca-Cola had already claimed to have banned marketing to the under-12 demographic in the United States.
While Coke received some praise for these efforts, most health advocates weren’t buying it. After the release of the campaign, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff spotted an ad from Coke in the June 17th edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which stated:
For over 50 years we’ve adhered to a company policy that prohibits advertising soft drinks to children… we’ve recently extended this policy to include all forms of media, including broadcast, print, the web and beyond.
Here is one of Coke’s latest forms of broadcast media, which by the terms of their policy, they must believe does not appeal children:
Does Coke honestly think children under 12 aren’t going to be enticed by an animated commercial about Santa Claus? Of course they don’t. On the contrary, this is the perfect example of a commercial Coke knows WILL target children, but the company could easily make a claim that it is designed for older children and adults. While many adults do enjoy Santa, you cannot deny that the jolly guy in the red suit and the magic of the North Pole predominantly appeals to children.
The holiday season also provides the perfect environment for pushing Coke’s family of polar bears in their advertising. In fact, the following was found in Coke’s online store as part of their holiday gift guide:
Don’t branded toys count as marketing? While Coke might be able to claim that this stuffed bear is made for adults, the company actually goes out of its way to RECOMMEND the toy for “little ones” age 3 and up. Wouldn’t this fit that part about ‘beyond’ in their ban on child targeted marketing?
Even the packaging itself is being designed in a way that could appeal to children. For the last few years, Coke has used the holiday season to sell ornament-shaped bottles of their products, once again starring cartoon versions of their famous family of polar bears.
The food industry spends nearly 2 billion per year in the U.S. marketing to kids, advertising mostly unhealthy products. Based on the media coverage, it might appear that the Coca-Cola company isn’t a part of this public health problem, but their actions continue to show otherwise. If Coke wants to use Christmas to sell their products, they are entitled to that. But, claiming that this marketing isn’t used to persuade children to associate Coke with the happiness and joy of the holiday season is shameful.