We’re only half way through January and the biggest communications event in 2013 may already have happened. This week, Coca-Cola released its first ever anti-obesity advert.
Under the theme of ‘Coming Together’ the two-minute segment is narrated with a tone not dissimilar to a public service announcement. The message it carries is hardly surprising: personal responsibility.
This is the standard argument used by all industries facing campaigns that say their products present a danger to the public. Without in any way implying a similar order of magnitude, the personal responsibility argument is also used by tobacco companies and the U.S. gun lobby. It is used for the simple reason that it is the only viable argument available.
In the case of tobacco, the argument is doing little but marginally delaying the inevitable decline of the industry. Coca-Cola, however, is playing a stronger hand and playing it well. They’re using their entire portfolio to deflect attention from their ubiquitous, sugary, calorific core product.
The advert speaks of average calorie reductions across all its drinks brands and the fact that 180 of its 650 U.S. beverage products contain either low- or no-calories. It speaks of the availability of smaller portions and, usefully, manages to squeeze in a big Coca-Cola logo every few seconds. What the advert resolutely does not do is refer to the sales volumes, calorie and sugar content of its biggest selling product.
Coke has spent many years developing a wide range of products and, particularly in recent years, this has included plain bottled waters and drinks that are supposedly healthy such as its Vitaminwater brand. These products are now being used by the parent company to protect its most valuable asset. In a sense, they’re coming together to protect Coke from ruinous legislation and regulatory burdens in the same way that Coca-Cola want us to come together to fight obesity.
From a communications point of view, the other notable aspect of Coke’s advert is that it’s really a lobbying campaign dressed up as a public service message. It delivers the personal responsibility message to millions of people. No doubt it will be coupled with digital campaigns, media outreach, lobbying in Washington and at an individual state level, community action groups and more. It is an excellent example of communications doing two things that it always should: being properly integrated; and delivering a clear business objective.
Who would I back to be the first to really win a public health debate using the personal responsibility argument? Coke is it.