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Business Comment

Danny Rogers on PR: Coke weighs in on the US obesity drive


Coca-Cola is trying to stop Americans getting fat. Spot the irony in that sentence. But some truth lies therein. Last week Coke launched its first “anti-obesity” advertising campaign, with a two-minute TV commercial on mainstream news channels, followed by another ad during American Idol.

The campaign, by Bright House and Citizen2, treads a difficult line for the notorious purveyor of sugary drinks. On the one hand Coke is warning customers that they need to burn off the hundreds of calories present in its standard beverages, on the other it is keen to show that this can be done by leading a fun, active lifestyle.

So the commercial highlights the problem of obesity in America and talks of the increasing number of "diet" and "smaller serving" alternatives that Coca-Cola now sells.

Sceptics, of which there are many, argue that Coke is undertaking a cynical damage limitation exercise. They speculate that with new legislation in the US limiting the serving sizes for soft drinks and forcing brands to display calorie numbers, Coca-Cola is simply reacting.

But governments have failed to change damaging behaviours and thus the battle against obesity requires the manufacturers to join the debate responsibly.

Stuart Kronauge, general manager of sparkling beverages for Coca-Cola North America, says: "There's an important conversation going on about obesity out there, and we want to be a part of the conversation." This in itself is a good thing. The ads use the phrase: "If you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight." A truism that is patently ignored in much of the world – including in Britain.

Companies such as Coca-Cola are gradually accepting that they are part of the problem, and therefore must be part of the solution.

Ideally, governments or community groups would be persuading us to change our behaviour for the better but it is encouraging that big brands are accepting their ethical responsibilities. Instead of a brilliant defensive strategy one just hopes this is "The Real Thing"™.