The Bottle Battle: Can Coca-Cola Clean Up?

In Reputation Managementby Marius Badenhorst

don-draperIt’s safe to say the profession of marketing isn’t one that’s viewed with a great deal of trust – society tends to brand advertisers, particularly those who work for large multinationals, as smooth-talking, unscrupulous Don Draper types who would sell their own grandmas if it meant climbing another rung up the company ladder. In a world where consumer trust is hard to come by and the term “ethical advertising” is widely regarded as an oxymoron, can the world’s biggest brands really clean up their act and become more transparent?

Coca-Cola, the ubiquitous soft drink that’s become synonymous with fun and refreshment thanks to clever marketing, has recently come under fire for allegedly contributing to the rising global problem of obesity, and are looking for a way to win back the trust of their audience.

Sweet Success?

Much more than a simple soda, Coke is undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest branding success stories, with The Huffington Post highlighting the following statistics:

  • The drink is sold in more than 200 countries worldwide,
  • Approximately 1.7 billion servings are consumed every day, and
  • 94% of the global population recognise the red-and-white Coca-Cola logo.

coke-bottlesImpressive to say the least, but of course with great power comes great responsibility. When you consider the fact that one 12-oz can of Coke alone is crammed with 39g of sugar and 139 calories, it’s not surprising that this universally popular product is taking some of the heat for our high-calorie dietary habits. With soda consumption linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure and a long list of ill-effects, the leading brand naturally becomes a scapegoat.

In response to this mounting criticism, the Coca-Cola Company will be making four pledges to consumers in the UK and around the globe:

1.Transparency: All bottles, cans and packaging will offer transparent nutrition information, with calorie labelling featured clearly on the front.
2.Responsibility: The company will no longer advertise to children under the age of 12 anywhere in the world.
3.Awareness: The brand promises to support physical activity programmes in every country where Coca-Cola is sold, and to highlight the importance of regular exercise.
4.Alternatives: There will be a bigger emphasis on marketing low- and no-calorie beverage options to consumers, such as Diet Coke and Coke Zero.

Coca-Cola has taken this global campaign online, and you can read more about these four new pledges here.

The Next Challenge

It seems when it comes to the more ethical side of branding however, Coca-Cola may be facing an uphill battle; environmentalists have also slammed the brand with an Australian Greenpeace ad linking plastic Coke bottles to the death of wildlife. At the time of writing, this controversial ad has 590 000 views and has sparked a great deal of debate, with Australia’s Channel9 labelling it “offensive” and refusing to broadcast it.

greenpeace-coke-adShould Coca-Cola fail to respond correctly to this challenge, they could easily undo all the good work that’s been put into promoting brand transparency and trustworthiness. This raises a number of questions. Will more consumers turn away from the brand as a result of this ad? What will the Coca-Cola Company’s next move be, and how will it affect their image?

Will the right response be enough? In the world of marketing, is there ever such a thing as “enough”? We know not all consumers trust their brands, but how many brands trust their consumers?

Share your thoughts, and let’s crack open a can of Coke-centric conversation!

About the Author

Marius Badenhorst