Tag Archives: marketing

Coca-Cola and Their Obesity Response

Riffing off of Marion Nestle’s recent post about Coca-Cola, marketing, and obesity, I think that it’s not a problem that Coca-Cola should be a participant in the conversation about the growing of America’s waistline. Hell, the more companies involved in such discussions, the better off we would all be.

That being said, the Coca-Cola company, nor any corporation for that matter, should solely drive the discussion, at least not without chance of proper questions to be asked of them and their own presumed culpability in the matter.

There in lies the dissonance. Companies like Coca-Cola don’t want a dialogue. It might put the company at risk, which in turn, puts their stock at risk, something that is a big no-no in the corporate world. It’s far, far better, from their point of view, to get in front of the debate, and lead it in the direction where questions surrounding their marketing, health claims, and pricing strategies simply do not get asked.

The result of this is silliness such as Coke’s Live Positively website, designed to give the impression that they care about the obesity issue. Yet, if you look around this site, the one unequivocal answer to helping consumers reduce caloric intake, i.e. drink less soda, is not mentioned once.

In fact, the opposite is true. Looking at their section on Active Healthy Living, Coke promotes guiding principles: Think, Drink, and Move. You’ll note that “Drink” comes before “Move”. You’ll also note that when clicking on the “Drink” link, it takes you to one of their many branding pages, where they boast of their “500 beverage brands inclusive of more than 3,500 beverages”, many of which are no where near what one would consider a healthy choice for consumption.

I’ve said this before about McDonald’s, and it holds true for Coca-Cola: Creating an illusion that their products are healthy is a difficult one to maintain in the long run. When your primary product is sugar water, and you major goal for your sugar water is to have people consume it in excess, it’s difficult to hold the position that Coke’s interest is equitable to the interest of those trying to be healthy.

It has to be a difficult position for Coke to be in. After all, they can’t just say that their products are little more than empty calories. They can’t imply that their beverages are little more than an affordable luxury item. But this is exactly what they are. They have the science to prove it. As do we.

They know this. They just can’t say it. And when a company cannot be free to speak to the facts when engaging in dialogue, for fear of adversely affecting their stock prices, they become a dishonest broker of information in the national discussion.


Nickelodeon Reduces Junk Food Marketing to Kids

It gets curiouser and curiouser. From Reuters:

NEW YORK, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Viacom Inc’s children’s television network Nickelodeon will limit use of its licensed characters on food packaging for products that do not meet certain health criteria.

Nickelodeon’s announcement comes after some of America’s largest food and drink companies, including McDonald’s Corp, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo Inc, last month said they would put stricter controls on advertising aimed at children under 12. Nickelodeon said its policy will become effective with new licensing agreements in January 2009, according to a letter on Wednesday from president Cyma Zarghami to Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House telecommunications committee.

To reiterate the point from this post, I really do think there are some back room deals going on. If there is, the public should be informed of what is being said. Yeah, it makes me sound like a tin-foil hat wearin’ looney, but I can’t shake this feeling that the public is being intentionally left out of this debate.


The Politics of Breakfast Cereals

My apologies for not responding to this very silly Wall Street Journal Op-ed about Kellogg’s stopping use of licensed characters for marketing, unless the food in question meets certain nutrition benchmarks for sugar, fat and calories.

Here are some choice quotes from the piece:

This retreat comes after the Naderite Center for Science in the Public Interest

and…

…the food activists, who are fronts for the trial bar, are targeting the cereal makers and broadcasters.

and finally…

The real issue is the threat of lawsuits themselves, which can cost tens of millions to defend while a company’s stock price is held hostage to a media assault.

Notice the level of invective? Notice the very carefully chose words and phrases such as “Naderite” and “front for the trial bar”, giving the perception, without proof mind you, that the quest to minimize influence of marketing upon children lays directly at the feet of the American Bar Association and any other legal institution that would profit from lawsuits against food companies.

Don’t you believe it.

In my opinion, the one thing more despicable than a greedy lawyer, is a greedy marketer. And is it the marketer or the lawyer who profits from the status quo of children’s advertising?

Look, obesity, especially children’s obesity is not as simple as “Children need to exercise more”. There are several other variables clearly at play, including what foods are being fed to them, the amount of food being fed, and yes, even the amount of time a child spends in front of the television being exposed to commercials that state “Cap’n Crunch is a nutritious part of a complete breakfast” or something similar.

As I’ve said before, if a company spends an inordinate amount of time and money hyping a brand, and people come to realize that the reality doesn’t measure up to the hype, the company shouldn’t be surprised when there is pushback. When consumers realize that Cookie Crisp and Count Chocula may not be as nutritious as the company has let on, the hype starts to seem less like PR and more like lies and manipulation.

And no one likes to be lied to and manipulated.


Jones Soda and the Seattle Seahwaks

Some may see this as a little story, but I’m not one of them.

Every few years, major contracts are hammered out that state which companies can provide food or beverages at major events throughout the country. Everything from hockey games to state fairs negotiate and sell rights to companies to have their products sold at these events. It should surprise no one that representatives from Coca-Cola and Pepsi are almost always involved, and it’s almost impossible to find any sodas other than one represented by these two companies being sold at concert venues, sporting arenas or even major high schools.

So when the Seattle Seahawks announced yesterday that neither Coke nor Pepsi will be sold at their stadium, it’s a big deal, especially for a higher profile team in a very high profile sports league. In their place comes relative newcomer and Seattle institution Jones Soda (the folks who sell the Turkey Flavor sodas around the holidays).

Jones is not new to event sponsorship, having been part of the skater culture for the past several years and being the “official soda” of several events. But getting a part of the NFL pie puts them onto a new level.

But the reason I really like this deal is that it may be a step back to food regionalism. Seeing Coke and Pepsi, as well as Budweiser, Starbucks, McDonalds, et al, being sold throughout the country homogenizes our culture. I don’t think that this is a good thing.

I’m of the belief that having regional diversity in our national marketplace is a very good thing. My thinking may be a bit “pie in the sky” but regional diversity can be a way of promoting civic pride. All you need to do is get a person from Kansas City and a person from Texas to talk about barbecue to understand that. Heck, thick about what Rolling Rock Beer meant to the folks in Western Pennsylvania before Anheuser-Busch bought them out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, dreaming my Utopian dreams. Congratulations to Jones Soda, for pulling off a major coup.


Trust in Food, Lies in Food

As I am writing this, I am sitting at a Coffeehouse called Verite Coffee. Their coffee is good, their cupcakes are even better. I visit here often because it’s convenient, and the product they sell (coffee, cupcakes) are quite good. I have a fair amount of faith that if I hand over my six dollars, I’m going to be rewarded with a pleasant experience.

The key word in the above paragraph is the word “faith”. I didn’t blindly give it to the proprietors of Verite. They had earned it through a fair amount of repetition of experience.

It’s this word “faith” that I latched onto when I was reading Michael Pollan’s piece Unhappy Meals in the most recent New York Time Magazine. My mind acknowledged the major thesis of his article, but still found it lacking a decent foundation from which the thesis is based.

The overall idea in the article is that “nutritionism” (a word coined by a sociologist) has played a large factor in the over processing of processed food.

In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help.

But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that sounds correct at it’s core. But the nutritionism is an effect, not a cause.

The key time frame that nutritionism entered into the industrial food world is roughly between 1975 and the late 1980′s/early 1990′s. This era roughly coincides with the rise of two very major socio-economic trends – single parent households and dual income households. And what’s the one resource in demand in both of these types of families?

Time.

The “nutritional” food explosion of the era in question didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened as a result of the marketplace not knowing what was in their food anymore, and not having the time (nor inclination) to find out. And as such, they turned their faith and trust over to food producers, in hopes that the food they purchased would be healthy, delicious, and convenient. And if two of those three properties aren’t available, please oh please let the food be convenient above anything else. One can see this in the rise of fast food, pizza delivery and single serving packaging.

The question on the table is now, did some industrial food companies abuse that trust? Of course they did, often by giving an allusion towards healthiness or deliciousness where none truly existed. The “All Natural 7up” and the low-fat ice cream are all the same strategy from the same playbook that has been around since Coca-Cola was sold as a health tonic.

Pollan does address this in his article.

The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.

With so much riding on diets, there’s only one person you should trust in your food decisions – yourself. If you find yourself lacking in information, find the time in your week to do the necessary research. It doesn’t matter if your primary choices are based on convenience, taste or health – it is you that has to live with the consequences of your choices. Faith in faceless institutions, especially in food companies whose primary goal is to increase their stock prices, is always an iffy proposition.

tags technorati : Food Choices Food


Coke’s Caloric Sophistry

What happens when you get two of the world’s largest food corporations, both with histories of unethical behavior (Coca-Cola and Nestlé) working together? A drink that burns calories.

Enviga, which will be on sale in the US next month, will be available in Britain next year.

The makers claim that a combination of extracts from green tea and caffeine speeds up the drinker’s metabolic rate, which helps the body to burn calories.

I think it’s safe to say that the energy-drink industry is truly getting out of hand. Their claims of drinking 3 bottles of Enviga will burn an average of 106 calories is cynical in their marketing. As Andrew Prentice, professor of international nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, mentioned in the article “The implicit claim to the consumer is that [Enviga] will make them lose weight.”

Coke denies that this is their motivation, speaking through their chief Scientist Rhoma Applebaum,”We want to make clear that this is not a magic bullet to lose weight”.

If one were to believe Coke’s position, then answer the following question – Do you think that they are thrilled or abhorred at the press that their drink is getting?

As Calorielab pointed out – “…you could save the four bucks a day ($1,460 a year) that would cost and go for a walk instead.”

Technorati Tags: Coca-Cola, Enviga


Fast Food and Hospitals

There’s something wrong with hospitals allowing fast food restaurants to set up shop in their buildings. I appreciate the need for the money that these franchises can bring, but it does give contrary messages to what many doctors speak.

One of the plethora of problems surrounding fast food restaurants selling themselves as a ‘healthy alternative’ is that they get to say the following (presumably with a straight face):

“McDonald’s has a long history of leadership in providing wholesome food made from quality ingredients,” said Bill Whitman, a McDonald’s representative. “We take great pride in providing our customers with a wide variety of menu choices that can fit into any nutritional requirement or dietary needs.”

Sorry Mr. Whitman. Fast Food is many things, but healthy isn’t one of them. No amount of spin can change that. Setting up shop in hospitals is opportunistic and classless. Nothing more.

Technorati Tags: Fast Food, Hospitals