Coca-Cola’s anti-obesity crusade highlights the role of corporate responsibility in PR

Coca-Cola, the world’s most valuable brand, last week launched a landmark anti-obesity campaign in the US, kicked off with a two minute spot titled ‘Coming Together.

The ad, which aims to spread the message that the “complex challenge of obesity” is one that concerns everyone – including Coke – and that by coming together, the US population will emerge a healthier, more slender, nation.

Corporate social responsibility 101

The ad reveals how advertising and corporate PR are becoming increasingly entwined, as consumers push for companies to take corporate social responsibility seriously, achieving  business goals while  trying to improve society and/or the environment.

Coke is doing both – simultaneously helping to conserve the polar bear’s Arctic home and crusading against the US obesity epidemic. Tick and tick.

Damage Control

The sceptics are out in full force – they argue that Coke doesn’t care about anyone’s waistline, the anti-obesity campaign depicting Coke as part of the ‘solution’ rather than the cause has been launched as a damage control operation to combat the widespread belief that sugary beverages make you fat.

They have a point. This is most certainly damage control wrapped up in a woolly corporate social responsibility blanket.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg found approval from the New York City Board of Health for his proposal for a maximum sweet beverage serving size of 16 ounces. It has been dubbed the ‘NYC Soda Ban’ and is set to come into action in March.  Of course, it’s not a ban, it’s a cap, but Coke are fore-sighted enough to realise this is the start of things to come.

Despite being a monolithic organisation, Coke has always reacted nimbly to cultural shifts. Two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese and people are starting to notice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is fighting full force against soda – its ‘Real Bears‘ spot, which is a take on the trademark Coco-Cola bear family, has had over two million YouTube hits: The Real Bears drink Coke, get fat, loose teeth, suffer from diabetes, impotency and amputation.

The future

Coke have launched the anti-obesity communications campaign as a damage limitation policy so that in years to come their name may not be sullied as an agent of diabetes and tooth rot but will instead be recognised as a supplier of a whole range of different beverages, and – this is the trickier one – an advocate of health, refreshing the world in mind, body and spirit.

If their campaign  contributes to shrinking a few waist-lines and reducing heart-disease whilst they’re at it, then all the better for everyone.

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