Tis the Season for Marketing Coke to Kids

santa Coke commercial

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?

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

5 Misleading Messages in Coke’s Latest Anti-Obesity Ad

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Recently, the Coca-Cola company unleashed a frenzy of media activity surrounding the company’s global plan to tackle obesity.  Their attempts have been dismal, including several television ads that divert attention from the role of sugary drinks on the obesity epidemic, instead focusing on consumers’ responsibility to engage in more physical activity.

Their latest ad (below) is full of deceptive claims about calories and the physical activity required to burn them off.

Here are 5 of the misleading messages that immediately caught my attention:

1. The beginning of the commercial explains that you will need to spend 5 minutes doing each of the activities in the ad to burn the calorie amounts displayed on the screen.  If you happen to miss this message (which would be easy to do), one might assume that you would burn 7 calories giving a quick hug, or 12 calories zipping up a dress.  You won’t.

2. The commercial  implies that the activities you do everyday, like getting dressed or shouting at someone,  will quickly add up and burn off  any of the measly calories you gain from drinking the refined sugar in Coke, ultimately suggesting that burning calories is easy.   It isn’t.

3. The ad tries to explain (which it doesn’t do very well) that if you spend 5 minutes doing each of the 10 activities in the commercial, you will promptly burn up the 160 calories in a 13.5 oz. bottle of Coke.  When was the last time you saw a 13.5 oz. bottle?  If you drink the more common 20 oz. bottle of Coke, it would require performing each activity for 7.5 minutes to burn the 240 calories you consumed.  Spending 7.5 minutes hugging, shouting or getting dressed might be a challenge.

4. Towards the end of the commercial, the ad suggests that enjoying life requires Coke.  I get it. This is advertising, and Coke has long been known for advertising which equates drinking Coke with happiness.  But, the company claims they are making attempts to tackle obesity.  If being healthy is part of how you enjoy life, Coke will not help you.

5. The commercial conveniently ignores the fact that if you just don’t drink Coke, you won’t need 10 activities to burn off the calories.

Thanks for nothing, Coke. Try again.

Coca-Cola and the fight against obesity

Over the last few weeks, the soda giant, Coca-Cola has been all over the media touting their new commitment in the fight against obesity. Is this a real attempt at being part of the solution or just a public relations stunt to dodge criticism of their sugary, obesigenic products? My guess is the latter.

Let’s take a look at their efforts.

First, Coke released a few commercials such as this, putting all the focus of the obesity problem on individuals and their lack of physical activity.  Note: there is not a single obese person is this commercial:

Next, Coke introduced this infographic, which blames obesity on our consumption of chicken dishes, grain based desserts, and breads, conveniently leaving out the fourth biggest calorie contributor to the American diet: You guessed it, sugar-sweetened beverages.  It also focuses on the old, outdated concept that all calories are created equal, and that calories-in vs. calories-out equates to weight loss. As a registered dietitian, I can assure you that there is a big difference between consuming 100 calories worth of the hyperprocessed carbohydrates found in soda, and 100 calories worth of high-fiber fruit or beans.

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Then, just a few weeks ago, Coke began to lay out the details of their new global obesity-fighting campaign.  This plan includes:

  • Offering low or no-calorie beverage options in every market
  • Making calories more visible on the front of the bottle
  • Stopping advertising to children under 12 everywhere in the world (for years they have claimed to already be doing this in the US, though it has been proven that they are not very good at at it)
  • Promoting exercise and healthy lifestyles

Coke’s website indicates a few examples of these efforts to promote physical activity:

  • Coke will give out Coca-Cola branded soccer balls at major events
  • Coke will distribute pedometers via their MyCokeRewards program
  • Coke is asking families to be active, by turning fitness activities into votes for parks to win recreation grants
  • Coca-Cola “happiness trucks” will drive around “inspiring people to get on their feet and move to the beat” by playing music at dance and fitness events across the country
  • Sponsoring a youth baseball clinic

I would argue that at least half of these supposed “commitments to contribute to health” easily qualify as more marketing for Coke. Furthermore, none of these efforts address the real issue: Americans consume too many calories from sugary drinks.

If Coca-Cola REALLY wanted to be part of the anti-obesity solution, they could:

  • Reduce portion sizes instead of lobbying against efforts like the one introduced by Mayor Bloomberg in New York City.
  • Support soda taxes
  • Stop fighting attempts to remove vending machines and soda marketing in schools
  • Stop infiltrating professional health organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics with biased research that ignores the proven link between sugar-sweetened beverages and poor health outcomes.

But, why would they? Their business is to sell more Coke.

As if you needed any more reasons to call this campaign a sham, I’ll give you three:

1. Coke continues to form partnerships, encouraging the consumption of excessive amounts of sugary soda.

2. Coke finds sneaky ways to disguise more marketing as an act of philanthropy.

3. Coke’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, participated in this VERY uncomfortable interview with CBS, where he seems to be having trouble answering basic questions about the controversy surrounding their anti-obesity campaign.