“Don’t do as I say, do as I do” is a mindset that has some Coca-Cola consumers fizzing with anger. On one side, the brand promotes its approach to fighting obesity worldwide including listing calorie counts prominently on the front of their cans and bottles. On the other side, the company is hard at work promoting the very same sugary drinks that help prolong the growing childhood obesity epidemic.
In an effort to can the criticism, the brand – which often wins kudos for its big picture content srategy – is building humor into its obesity awareness campaign. But will this resonate with consumers? USA Today examined Coca-Cola’s new commercial, “Happy Cycle,” which coaxes people to ride a goofy stationary bike for 23 minutes in order to earn a free can of Coke. Its 23 minutes because that’s about the time a 140-pound adult would need to bicycle in order to lose the 140 calories contained in the soda can.
AdWeek’s coverage of the stunt was a little more pointed, calling it a disaster. The notion that most fit youngsters are ready and willing to jump on a humongous stationary bike in front of crowds of people and sweat like dogs as a robot delivers a can of Coke is wrong in so many ways. For starters, it doesn’t promote healthy weight loss because the participants are losing 140 calories to simply gain it back again. It certainly doesn’t appeal or speak to the critically obese population, who may feel embarrassed to get on that bike. Finally, it makes light of a serious problem that the company itself has had a hand in.
Tim Taylor, a health and fitness guru, told USA Today “Coke is really pushing it. This is propaganda at its best. Their suggestion that you would need just under 20 minutes to burn off the calories in one 12-ounce can of Coke is absolutely absurd.” Taylor also pointed out that many adult Americans do not weigh 140 pounds.
Double-sided marketing messages will always create tug-of-wars between brands and consumers. But there’s a blatant reality here: you can’t have a brand that stands for healthy when the top product marketed has 40 grams of sugar. It’s like Five Guys marketing for healthy hearts. Yet more and more brands are attempting to become advocates against the very products they promote to consumers. Some brands categorize it as transparency. However, in some cases, it’s only transparent when it helps the brand. So, in the end, it’s not transparent at all. There’s no changing the core product, but smothering consumers with a little truth, a little fiction, and good ole’ humor keeps many big brands afloat.
If a small brand executed a similar marketing approach as Coca-Cola’s Happy Cycle, it would vanish and never be heard of again. And while big brands have hefty shock absorbers to recovery from multimillion-dollar potholes, many brands can’t afford that luxury. Instead, long-term dividends come to those who build and market the brand as a true reflection of the product or service.
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