Coca Cola and the Politics of Coming Together

Coca Cola is one of the world’s most iconic brands.  It’s also a leading brand in a category under the microscope for being a major contributor to our population’s obesity problem.  With soft drinks in general banned in schools across the country and even having their serving sizes regulated in New York City, the category has been heavily criticized for using high fructose corn syrup.  HFCS is digested differently than cane sugar resulting in its conversion to fat rather than being eliminated.   This past Monday, Coke decided to do something about the obesity issue; they embraced it by launching a two minute commercial, Coming Together, created by politically oriented branding company Citizen2 and BrightHouse .

The commercial rolled out online on Monday, January 14, 2013, with block media buys running on cable’s MSNBC, CNN and FOX News.

While the commercial has grabbed the headlines, the ad is supported by a lesser-known website, TOGETHER FOR GOOD

Coke’s premise behind the commercial and website is twofold. The first is summed up in the commercial’s voice over, which tells us that all calories count, no matter from where they come, including Coca Cola.  Second, that Coca Cola wants to be a part of the conversation about obesity and the role sugary drinks play in the growing problem.  Part of that conversation, from Coke’s perspective, involves pointing out that they offer 180 products that have low or no calories out of their portfolio of over 650 beverages.

Ad industry online reaction to Coming Together was swift and for the most part, positive.

 January 14, 2013  Smart because they’re trying to control the conversation, not enter it. Sugar is the biggest problem with soft drinks, not calories.  http://adage.com/article/news/coca-cola-addresses-obesity-ads/239163/ 

 January 15, 2013  The idea comes from R.H. Macy in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, “In being known as the helpful store (cola) we will sell more (drinks) than ever!  http://adage.com/article/news/coca-cola-addresses-obesity-ads/239163/

 January 15, 2013  Addressing the issue head on is smart. Well-conceived, well-reasoned spot. Coke would rather be a leader and a participant in the discussion instead of a handy piñata.  http://adage.com/article/news/coca-cola-addresses-obesity-ads/239163/

 However, there were a few observations from the professional community about the core issue in the argument about sugary drinks; the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

 January 15, 2013  if they really cared then why are they still putting High Fructose Corn Syrp in the beverages  http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2013/01/14/Coca-Cola-Obesity-Campaign-011413.aspx

 January 15, 2013  Sugary drink or drinks with artificial sweetners are slowly going to decline over the years. In the day of obesity, Whole Foods Market, chronic diseases, etc. there is little room for non-nutritious foods. GMOs, HFCS, Aspartame, etc. are going to get critical reviews by consumers and they will ultimately vote with their dollars.  http://adage.com/article/news/coca-cola-addresses-obesity-ads/239163/

 Consumers in online communities quickly fell into three main camps.  The first are the defenders of Coca Cola.  Conversations online show that they tend to argue for consumers to exercise self-control instead of imposing any sort of government regulation on the product or its consumption.

 January 15, 2013  Not sure why the vendors like Coke are being targeted. Last time I checked they didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head and forced them to buy their products. Personal choice people. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS. You made yourself fat.  http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/14/health/coke-obesity/index.html#cnn-disqus-area

 January 15, 2013  RinkyDink965_Ehhhh, I think they’ve done a good thing putting out a message that at least they have certain options when it comes to low-calorie options. What people drink is up to them, ultimately, isn’t it? If you know something is bad for you, but drink it anyway, who’s fault is it? The same applies to anything, really. All it takes is a modicum of common sense and responsibility for what you allow into your own body.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 January 15, 2013  I am tired of people and the government trying to tell me what I should and should not eat. I will eat and drink whatever the hell I want to, it is not the governments business what or how much I eat or drink. The government needs to keep its nose out of our lives.  http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/14/health/coke-obesity/index.html#cnn-disqus-area

 January 15, 2013  Christianrocker1990_Yes, blame Coke. Throw personal responsibility to the wind and blame a conglomerate, that will help you lose weight.  Sarcasm aside, do you know how stupid that sounds?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 High Fructose Corn Syrup is the key issue discussed by the second camp.  Coke’s use of the sweetener in the US is compared in conversations to Cokes bottled in Mexico and Canada, where cane sugar is used by statue.  Costco brought the issue to wider public scrutiny by offering Coca Cola bottled in Mexico, using cane sugar, to US consumers.

 January 15, 2013  Bring back real sugar cokes.. They have it in every other country but here we get HFCS.. i think HFCS is one of the main reasons for obesity in this country…  http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/14/health/coke-obesity/index.html#cnn-disqus-area

 January 15, 2013  Roger Kulp_Coca-Cola in the last 25 years is not what it was in the 100 years before then.Both Aspartame and HFCS cause obesity,and other medical problems,maybe not cancer like saccharine or cyclamates,but neither are healthy.A couple of articles to Google”Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings” “Diet Sodas Linked to Increased Obesity, Diabetes” That ought to be enough to get started. If you are not diabetic or obese,seek out premium cane sugar sodas.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 January 15, 2013  F. Tomcsik_Unconfirmed sources have revealed that Mexico realized the dangers of Hydrogenated Fructose in Coca Cola and reverted back to using real sugar in Coke.Hi Fructose Corn Syrup, and Glucose Syrup, is the same thing, and can kill you over time. Hi Fructose Corn Syrup is hydrogenated and cannot be absorbed into the blood stream through the intestines. It must be processed through the pancreas and the liver. Over time will develop obesity, diabetes, pancreatic cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Hard stick margarine is also hydrogenated.  http://abcnews.go.com/Business/coca-cola-address-obesity-time-ads/comments?type=story&id=18209650#.UPX-kW-r_Qg

 January 15, 2013  Delores Kirkwood_wesmess09. YES YOU CAN BLAME COKE – and other companies that use high fructose corn syrup in their products (most proccessed foods). HFCS has been proven to be a major cause of obesity., heart disease and stroke in America and for more than a decade the Cardiology Dept. of the Univ. of WA Medical School has been trying to get the FDA to get it out of our food. Why haven’t they? Is the FDA being bought also? BTW, regular corn syrup is fine. HFCS is an altered sweetening agent.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 January 15, 2013  germanjulian_Hey Cola people, you need to read up on sugar and once you realize that High Fructose Corn Syrup makes you fatter faster then glucose for the same sweetness factor you can just change the recipe..  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 The third camp sees the brand communication as more of a public relations effort than an effort at true dialog.  Coke’s outreach is often met with cynical disbelief.  Comments are by turns derisive and dismissive of the marketer’s message.

 January 14, 2013  “We’ve added the calorie content of all the beverages on the front, to help make it even easier for people to make informed decisions.” Bullshit. That was a requirement from the Affordable Care Act, the same clause that requires chain restaurants to have the calorie information shown on their menus. They didn’t have a choice in the matter.  http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/01/14/heres-cokes-new-anti-obesity-ad

 January 15, 2013  P0rtilla_You know I actually though to myself for a second ”wow, I wonder if such a huge company like Coca-Cola is actually doing some kind of non-profit movement to actually help society”, right about then was when she said ”we have 180 products with less than blah blah blah”, oh I was so wrong.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 January 15, 2013  wesmess09_I don’t blame Coca-Cola for the obesity problem in the US, I blame them for this ad, which is averting attention towards a few of the healthier options they now offer and away from the harm that is done in using high amounts of fructose to flavor our beverages. Counting calories is not the problem, it’s about what nutrients (or lack of nutrient) we take in when consuming their product. They know that using fructose while a wise business move is the problem, and they know they are misleading us.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 There are a few in this third camp who perceive the point to the public relations aspect of the campaign.  Even though they are unaware of the unique background and talents of one of Coming Together’s creators, Citizen2 .

 January 15, 2013  Jay Killeen_@clayton9m You hit the nail on the head. “Eexcept young children”. We were all young once. Coca-Cola’s strategy for a long time has been to appeal to children and teens. This is why Santa wears Red and White. People get addicted to this stuff. That’s why Coca-Cola originally started with cocaine in their mixture. The contention is, why only now have Coca-Cola decided to take some responsibility to bring this issue to the public, to bring people together. It is damage control. A storm is brewing  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zybnaPqzJ6s

 In some published accounts, Health Advocates see the campaign as an attempt to head off the creation of policies aimed at regulating or reducing public consumption of sugary drinks, which would include Coke.   Citzen2, one of the campaign’s creators, is an agency designed to handle brands and clients that require both brand messaging and the kind of public affairs expertise aimed reaching either state or Washington insiders.  It’s not surprising then to find that the agency is a subsidiary of Purple Strategies, a Washington DC political communications and public affairs company.  This is interesting in that it indicates that Coke’s reasons behind wanting to “get involved in the conversation” might be less consumer oriented and more directed toward influencing public opinion in advance of regulatory action at either the state or congressional level.  If this is true, then we might be able to judge the campaign’s success by how often we hear Coke’s phrase from the commercial, “energy balance”, used in the coming debate.

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