Coke’s sugar-coated ‘commitment’ - Social Media Explorer
Coke’s sugar-coated ‘commitment’
Coke’s sugar-coated ‘commitment’

Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a marketer. Most days, I believe in what I do and I’m proud of it.

Marketing helps businesses grow. And it helps great businesses – ones that provide real value to their customers – grow even faster. Social media is a powerful new tool for this kind of marketing.

But then there’s the other side of marketing. And social media is helping that side spread its messages, too. Today, I turned the page of my daily Guardian and saw a full-page ad from Coke.

Here’s the unedited copy:

Good things happen when people come together.
We know one of the issues currently uniting and concerning communities is obesity. And we believe that choice, innovation, information and activity can help make a difference. Keeping our families and communities healthy and happy is a journey we’re on together. And at Coca-Cola we are committed to playing our part.
All calories count.

My stomach turned when I read this and I hope yours did too.
I don’t what makes me sicker:

The patronizing, sugar-sweet tone of voice

Coke's Coming Together campaign is offensive

It sounds like a TV cop talking a crazy man off a ledge. “Step away from the Twitter button (and the ballot box) and let’s just sit down and talk rationally. Together.”

Coke’s Corporate Social Responsibility folks have clearly studied their Handbook of Obsequious Drivel. Who am I kidding, they probably wrote it.

The premise of the entire campaign

We’re meant to take at face value that the same company that spends nearly three billion dollars a year to get people to ingest almost as many tons of sugar (10.8 pounds of the stuff per person every year in America alone) is sincerely concerned about obesity.

Make no mistake. Coke is not concerned about obesity. Coke is concerned about our concern about obesity. And there’s a world of difference.

The presumption that we will ‘join them’ in their important work

And that we’ll share their message with our friends across social media. The campaign website – full of videos of healthy young people playing sports while wearing Coke T-shirts – urges us to ‘Share this”. I would rather share this morning’s bowel movement.

This is Marketing Jiu-Jitsu 101: use the attacker’s energy to take him where you want him to go. Because that’s how Coke sees anyone who is sincerely concerned about obesity (as opposed to pretending to be concerned)– as the enemy.

I need to take a shower

This kind of thing is one reason why I moved away from consumer marketing and moved to the business-to-business side. I hated how I felt when I tried to execute a strategy that boiled down to, “Be a good mother: use our fabric softener”. I feel better about making a rational case for a business to invest its money in my client’s product or service.

But, hey, cigarette and sugar-water companies have to make a living too.

And when the world discovers that the very thing they’re selling is actually killing us, they have to respond.

I get that.

I just hate the way they respond. And the insulting assumption that we’ll accept all this as a sincere attempt to exercise corporate responsibility. Read the ad copy again. The Coca-Cola Company thinks you’re an idiot.

Again, it’s textbook stuff:

  • Find out what the haters are so upset about.
  • Pretend you’re even more concerned than they are.
  • Collect all the tiny things you do that appear to demonstrate your ‘commitment’ to this cause. Put them in one place. Like a microsite.
  • Hire that writer who got fired from West Wing for being too self-righteous.
  • Take out full-page ads all over the place to drive people to the microsite.
  • Invite everyone to ‘join you’ in your altruistic work.

If we reject this transparent attempt at whitewashing, we’re the ones turning our backs on the fight against obesity. Neat trick, huh?

Sorry, Coke.

I smile when I watch your annual Christmas marketing (“Coke is the real spirit of Christmas. Ignore that dude on the cross.”)

I smile when you spend hundreds of millions to weld your brand to literally any of the things we all love – like football, family and… love itself.

I marvel at the way humans never stop to question these surreal associations – our brains just automatically start building neural pathways between the ‘love’ center and the bit of the brain branded with the red swoosh (called, I kid you not, “The Dynamic Ribbon Device – a registered trademark of The Coca-Cola Company”).

But when I see the same techniques applied to something that matters – like kids who can’t walk up stairs or skyrocketing diabetes rates – and I stop smiling. And start wretching.

You’re a marketer too. How does this kind of thing make you feel?

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About the Author

Doug Kessler
Doug Kessler is co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, the London-based B2B content marketing agency. Doug has written a lot about content marketing including the B2B Marketing Manifesto, the B2B Content Strategy Checklist and Crap: Why the Biggest Threat to Content Marketing is Content Marketing.

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