PR Filter: Master marketer Coke struggles with PR messaging

August 15, 2013  |  Rebecca Harris  |  Comments

There’s little happiness surrounding Coke’s new healthy vibe

Coca-Cola must have missed all that advice from PR and social media gurus about being authentic. The company is trying to drum up some positive PR with “global commitments to help fight obesity,” but consumers aren’t drinking the Koolaid… er, high-fructose corn syrup.

With soft-drink manufacturers increasingly under fire for contributing to the obesity epidemic, Coke found it necessary to address critics. But consumer reaction shows it should have just taken a cue from Cookie Monster and said Coke is a sometimes drink, rather than position itself as being part of the solution.

Hitching its brand to the anti-obesity movement is disingenuous and the damage to its reputation will be far greater than any finger-wagging from health advocates. While the media had a field day when Coca-Cola’s first ad launched, the backlash swelled online when Coke took its oxymoronic messaging to BlogHer.

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Coca-Cola sponsored the July conference in Chicago, which brought together 5,000 female bloggers. Instead of just giving away free pop, Coca-Cola gave out pedometers for its “Steps to Wellness” challenge that encouraged attendees to be more active.

In the sponsorship announcement on, some comments were supportive, but many readers could clearly see the lipstick on the pig.

Said one: “While we are at it maybe a cigarette company can come and be the wellness sponsor next year. After all smoking is a choice so why would it bother us to see a huge company marketing themselves as something they are not?”

And: “[I] would have more respect for them if they said, ‘we make soda. People like it…’ and not try to be a ‘healthy’ company.”

On Twitter, some compared the sponsorship to a hooker teaching abstinence. And the Center for Science in the Public Interest (@CSPI) weighed in with: “Really, ‪@blogher? Coke as wellness sponsor? Was Virginia Slims unavailable?”

One blogger held her own Twitter party discussing why Coke has no business teaching “wellness” at Blogher. The Twitter party had 519 participants, 3,855 Tweets and trended nationally.

Whether or not a brand of pop actually contributes to rising obesity is beside the point. The fact is, many people find Coke tasty and refreshing, so Coke should stick to what it sells best: happiness, smiles and 39 grams of sugar per can.

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