Friday, 9 November 2012

Coca-Cola, Healthy Lifestyles and CSR: Meaningful Initiatives versus Gimmicks

In theory Coca-Cola’s attempts to address the health issues associated with their products is admirable. But their latest venture – the Work It Out Calculator – is not just a marketing gimmick, but a socially dangerous one at that.

The online 'tool' launched in UK gives exercise suggestions to burn off the calories consumed in a Coca-Cola product. For starters, different people need to do different amounts of exercise depending on their weight, therefore rendering the ‘calculations’ useless. But more importantly, Coca-Cola has about as much credibility to teach us about health as Gü or McDonald’s. 

This is not criticism - what these brands provide instead is fun, indulgence and pleasure. There is no need to dilute their attractive taste-based propositions in this apologetic manner. I doubt Coca-Cola’s website is consumers’ first port of call to learn about calories and nutrition!

That said,  Coca-Cola's partnership with StreetGames (a charity that helps make sport accessible to young people) is bang in the money since it promotes a positive attitude to exercise. The difference between the two initiatives is subtle but important. The Work It Out Calculator encourages feelings of deficit and guilt. The mentality of ‘I’ve consumed 73 calories so I need to do 18min on a treadmill’ is most prevalent amongst people with eating disorders.  As a young people’s brand Coke has responsibility to stave off such unhealthy attitudes, not promote them. The StreetGames partnership, on the other hand, not only leverages Coca-Cola’s upbeat and democratic brand but also provides tangible benefits to users and community. 

CSR is to be celebrated, but only when it is meaningful and effective. Coca-Cola can do so much good; it’s a shame to see them waste resources on useless, half-baked initiatives.  

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