As a company, Coca Cola is an absolute colossus. Often cited as “the world’s biggest brand”, its sugary liquid is a staple pretty much everywhere in the world. If you haven’t got a Coke can kicking around your village I’m gunna assume that you’re one of those uncontacted Amazonian tribes.
It is tasty. Gosh it’s delicious. And for the bulk of its existence, nothing else has really mattered.
“Sir, would you like to purchase this yummy thing and put it in your mouth hole?”, the 1800s general store proprietor might say.
“Why yes. I rather think I would.”
Then, the dialogue of shopkeep and patron being complete, that happy young chap would stroll out of the refreshment shoppe with his glass bottle of liquid gold in hand, whistling whatever folk classic was topping the gramophone charts that week.
Times have changed. Unlike our 1800s forefathers, misplacing all of your teeth by age 32 is no longer the accepted norm. And the fact that we can comfortably live into our 70s and 80s means a case of diabetes is no longer shrugged off as “well I made it to 40 and at least I’m still not dead.”
So we find ourselves in a day and age where sugar is BAD. It’s in everything, but according to those in the know, it should really be in nothing. Coca Cola has built its empire around this sweetness, which puts it in a tricky spot when it comes to marketing its product.
Being this big has its perks. Just ask Andre the Giant. Actually, he’s very dead, so maybe call Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll tell you that you can get away with a lot.
While the bulk of Coke’s marketing focus is on its drink being a liquid form of happiness, a company as large as this is always going to look for ever more creative, ever more subtle ways to get their product into the eyes, ears and heads of their customers.
How does Coca-Cola as a healthy snack option sound to you?
Coca-Cola, in a variety of health publications, has been listed as a terrific light snack option for those looking for a balanced lifestyle. Recently, there were a slew of articles written for American Heart Month that referenced mini-Coke cans as a great snack choice, and the nutritionists and dieticians who wrote the pieces were particularly cagey when it came to the question of what prompted the inclusion.
The justification of the recommendation was this: If people are going to drink sugar-loaded drinks anyway, recommending a smaller serving size could well be considered sound medical advice. But the greater dietician community didn’t quite see it that way.
“Look, we know what you kids are like these days. We know you’re all going to get into smoking meth. But I tell you what – as a healthier option, why not limit yourself to a couple of hits a day? No need to go silly.” This was the essence of how most nutritionists saw the message.
Purchasing experts’ favour isn’t anything new. Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart is a corker for throwing big money at the 1% of scientists who are slightly more skeptical about global warming than the overwhelming majority.
But with the regulation of food and drink these days, and the ready and forced access to ingredient lists and nutritional information, trying to throw out sugar water as a health-conscious ingestion choice is probably a bridge too far. Despite Coke having a brilliantly successful and envied marketing record, the paid referrals caused a ripple through industry experts that was hard to contain.
Utilising independent professionals in marketing your product is a great marketing ploy. A friendly doctor giving your pharmaceutical the thumbs up, or in Coke’s case, perhaps getting someone to analyse the levels of ‘happy’ (endorphins, dopamine) when someone takes a refreshing brown gulp would have been a better way to play it.
But painting a horse and calling it a zebra is not.
The lesson from Coke is simple. Your product can be delicious. Your brand can be fun. Your message can be heart-warming.
But know what you are, and don’t take the piss.