Wednesday, January 16

Advertising Obesity: Coca-Cola Has The Skinny

Imagine how ridiculous it would have been for cigarette companies to run advertisements in the 1990s attempting to offset smoking with a few quick hits on an oxygen tank. And then consider the impenitence of the latest Coca-Cola advertisement that attempts to cure obesity by suggesting you can still have a Coke and smile, provided you take a few quick laps around the block.
The two-minute commercial created by Coca-Cola is a nightmare. At best, it's a two-minute segment that highlights how Coca-Cola has worked diligently to undo the damage that drove its profit margin.

The spot touts how the company has reduced the average calories per serving of its beverage by 22 percent (mostly by divesting into non-soft drinks like juice and water), shrunk serving sizes, placed calorie counts on the front of containers, reduced beverage calories in schools by 90 percent (mostly by dropping soft drinks from the offering), developed a strategic philanthropy plan that helps fund physical fitness programs for young people, and invested in innovative sciences to create new sweeteners.

The commercial wraps this all up by reminding everyone they get calories from other places beyond their favorite fizzy elixirs — which means that you should feel guilt about those extra inches around your waistline. Or, in other words, if overweight people would just work out, then companies like Coca-Cola wouldn't be thrown under the bus by New York nanny Bloomberg. Here it is...

This commercial is one of the biggest anti-brand statements ever put out by Coca-Cola. It literally strips away any ounce of happiness that once made its flagship product an undisputed brand champ and replaces it with a public relations spin that doesn't work. It admits guilt and attempts to share some of it.

The nine rules of advertising needs another rule. Be the real thing, only.

There is something seriously wrong with this country, and corporate marketers aren't making it better. Too many companies fall prey to the nation's escalating overindulgence in national guilt and actually feed it with apologetic advertising. Coca-Cola isn't the only one, but it does represent a trend.

If you have looked at messaging trends today, you will discover that people ought to feel guilty if they cannot sustain themselves OR become too successful. People ought to feel guilty if they are too skinny OR too heavy. People ought to feel guilty if they aren't willing to help people in need by raising taxes OR if they vote for spending that increases the national debt. People ought to feel guilty if they are too pious to pop a can of Coke OR if they drink more than a thumbnail of the bubbly caramel substance.

There is no win. This is a country that not only feels guilty about everything but makes demands that everyone who doesn't feel equally miserable receive punishments. This weird guilt sickness has become so prevalent in our society, people don't even feel guilty for what they do, they feel guilty about what other people do. National obesity is but one example, and it's a shame to see one of the few holdout companies fall for it.

The new two-minute spot marks the end of an era.

Coca-Cola doesn't have anything to apologize for. Its flagship product is a surgary fizzy drink that many people enjoy. Almost all of them received the memo that too much of a good thing is bad thing, which is why drinking a 12-pack isn't such a good idea. And yet, more and more people feel so incredibly guilty about those who are weak willed that they demand we legislate how much soft drink everyone can purchase and consume regardless of their own ability to moderate.

Coca-Cola isn't the problem. The lack of willpower of some and guilt of many is the problem. 

And apparently, this lack of willpower and inflated sense of guilt is beginning to rub off on advertisers too. They sell products of indulgence and then feel guilty about it when the public falls out of love with them because somebody overindulged. At the same time, they don't want to accept responsibility for it so the consumer has to share in it.

All of this misses the point. The real magic of Coca-Cola as a product is that for five to 30 seconds a swig, whomever is drinking it can forget about their troubles and briefly enjoy a taste bud tickle followed up by a caffeine buzz. What's wrong with that? Product promise. Product delivered.

This new spot, on the other hand, is nothing more than a buzz kill because it reminds the consumer that every 5- to 30-second swig carries consequences not only for them, but also for the nation. Worse, they cannot even save themselves or anybody else from this indulgence because anything else they enjoy with calories is evil too, along with a lifestyle that includes watching too much television news that is so depressing that they can't possibly motivate themselves off the couch. I dunno about you, but this realization kind of kills any warm and fuzzy feeling I might had about a brand and that's ironic.

It's ironic because I don't drink Coca-Cola unless it is mixed up in the occasional stiff drink, but I have always felt good about the brand. It's very American, representative of a small indulgence that is within easy reach of anyone. How dour life would be without it. How dour it's becoming with all this guilt.

Wing nut advocacy campaigns aren't the only communication programs that can shape the nation. Companies can help shape them too. Their primary responsibility is to deliver a brand promise and, assuming they do that well, then enjoy financial success and make contributions to communities in the form of taxes, employment, investment returns, and charitable contributions (maybe even to curb obesity) so that other people don't have to pay as much in taxes. Anything else could fall flat.
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