Commentary

'The Real Thing'? Not This Coke Campaign

Sometimes the smartest brands use content marketing in a remarkably dangerous and stupid way. Case in point: Coca Cola's recent sneaky gambit, employing nutritionist bloggers to sell the iconic soft drink as a heart-smart snack.

Last month, nutritionists paid by the beverage mega-giant were touting mini-cans of Coke as a healthy snack option in online columns, radio commentary and print. Making the whole thing particularly odious, this paid content was insinuated into stories about February's Heart Health and Black History Month. 

Without shame, the world's largest beverage company has admitted to paying to push mini-cans of Coke as a part of a healthy diet, arguing the marketing ploy is simply a version of “product placement.” A  Coca-Cola spokesman told the Associated Press that the semi-stealth effort was what virtually all brands do to shine a positive light on their respective products.

“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” the Coke spokesman told the AP. “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent."

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Hey, Mom, it's no big deal. All the kids do it.

No way. This is about putting nutritionists on the pad to push a big lie. 

Or as veteran nutritionist Jody Gilman more reasonably says: “No way” is sugary soda a heart-smart snack. “Good things don't always come in small packages,” adds Gilman. “[Mini-cans] may provide temporary portion control, but they don't promote a change in behavior. Consumers would be better served by working with a nutritionist who consults on truly smart choices and proven methods of behavior modification.”

Sure, I enjoy a Coke and a smile as much as the next caffeine and sugar fiend.  A mini-can is not as bad a choice as a Big Gulp. It may be good as an occasional guilty pleasure and a fast-fade thirst-quench. But come on -- part of a heart-healthy diet?  Truly, I thought Coke was smarter than this. When I first read an article about the campaign, I thought I was being pranked by The Onion.

Yes, it's true that most major companies, from Big Agra to Big Pharma, are in the content marketing business, underwriting research and spreading the word from seemingly independent media across platforms to burnish brands.  Still, the savvy marketers at Coke should know better. This is exactly the kind of content marketing that stretches credulity and runs the risk of backfiring big time. 

Sure, the thumbnail bios for most of the scribes talking Coke-is-heart-smart trash say these hired quote-chimps work as consultants for the food and beverage industry, including Coca-Cola. Yet this isn't true transparency. It's the kind of foolishness that tarnishes a brand and raises legitimate concerns with federal agencies like the FTC and FDA.

I'm pretty much a free-speech absolutist. But heart-smart mini-Cokes for Black History Month? There ought to be a law.

3 comments about "'The Real Thing'? Not This Coke Campaign".
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  1. James Hering from The Richards Group, March 20, 2015 at 11:44 a.m.

    Wow... speechless... yes - that breaches consumer trust and leaves nothing but a bad taste for the brand.

  2. Alan Westendal from West End Communications/Consul, March 20, 2015 at 3:11 p.m.

    The campaign, if it is as you describe it, is so on-its-face dumb that we may see Coke blame an errant bottler, other franchisee, or, gasp, advertising agency, and back away.

    Looking at it from an evolutionary biology point of view, however, it is self-correcting. The poor dopes who fall for this will work themselves out of our species' gene pool faster than those who see the mendacity. Unfortunately, that may take dozens of generations; in the meanwhile Coca-Cola, the company, will likely have died from other natural causes.

  3. Brendan Howley from twinfish, March 26, 2015 at 7:32 p.m.

    As goes McDonald's today, so goes Coke down the road. There's a sea-change going on in convenience foods, fallout of all manner of reporting (think: the Big Mac that never spoiled; the Kraft slices that attracted neither insect nor mouse) and the web's native skepticism undercutting big ad bucks. Bottom line? Coke's on the wrong side of history. Coke lies? That ain't news. What is news is the Stalinist cynicism of The Really Big Lieā€”that and the low comedy that 'Somebody in Atlanta' thought this was a good idea. Amazing the lawyers let it through, come to think of it...but then they're on the payroll too.

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