‘The long-term health of our families and the country is at stake’; this is not an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO), but by Coke in America that took a call on ‘the issue of this generation: obesity’. It urges people to come together and fight the problem of obesity by offering more than 180 low- and no-calorie drink choices and smaller portions for most of its popular drinks. The company has decided to add the calorie counts to the front of their bottles and cans, to make it easier for consumers to make informed choices.
Obesity rates have more than doubled in adults and children since the 1970s. Reports reveal that every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates with an increase of 82 per cent globally in the past two decades. As per WHO’s ‘The world health statistics 2012’ report, one in six adults is obese, one in 10 diabetic and one in three has raised blood pressure. The situation is alarming in the US where two-third of the adults are overweight or obese.
Coke has come under increased fire over emerging as a predominant reason for obesity in America, according to health groups. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) even released an animated short film that showed the impact of obesity, diabetes, and other soda-related diseases on a family of polar bears. The CSPI slammed Coke’s effort saying that, “This new advertising campaign is just a damage control exercise, and not a meaningful contribution toward addressing obesity.”
The campaign raises several questions such as: Did Coke decide it’s time to become part of the solution or is this yet another sophisticated marketing campaign by the Cola giant? Are they concerned about the issue or is this desperation to do something about the declining sales in the US?
Anand Halve, Co-Founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy said, “I think intrinsic faults lie in some product categories and the intrinsic characteristics become harmful only due to improper or unthinking usage. This is particularly true for liquor. However, when we move to food items, it is different because people consume them on a constant basis. If it is damaging in the normal course of consumption, then it is fundamental product problem.”
“This kind of communication is a politically correct apology for having done something wrong. There are responses to the public outrage. To my mind, New York was planning to limit the size of the portions of the Coke bottle. By the time, somebody is forcing the brand to do things like this, then it is a fundamental product problem. Therefore, any campaign done in this light seems to be a politically correct apology and not a sincere desire to change things. If a brand is concerned, then it should radically change the product portfolio,” he added. He highlighted that years ago this happened with baby foods and there was a ban on advertising of baby foods.
As a brand, Coke has taken a bold step of urging loyalists not to consume their products as it is leading to obesity and other lifestyle disorders. This viral campaign has surprised the audiences, but the question here is: Can brands in India take such a bold step?
Gary Grewal, Founder, Red Ice Films said, “It was enlightening to view the new Coke Obesity Viral Campaign, wherein the brand reflected the way it has evolved and matured in its communication with its audience. The social impact is a growing need for brands and I think Coke just defined that beautifully in the proactive communication through this campaign. This speaks volumes in terms of understanding the target audience and their community with the underlining thought, which was well construed taking their relationship with their brand loyalist to the next level. A sure shot growing trend and it will be refreshing to have some of our Indian campaigns take that stand.”
There have been discussions on various platforms on the way advertising in India is exaggerated and does not show the true face of the brand or the product. With the Indian audiences becoming informed, it is time for the advertising industry to grow and take a matured outlook towards their ads.
Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults said, “India is still an emerging and developing market in these terms. I do not believe that India is ready to take this bullet but that is in the context of saying chronologically the way overseas markets have gone from the point of low to high to obscene consumption and back to low consumption of these products and services. But if India wants to skip that learning curve, I think brands should adopt it right now. We do not need to follow the curve that the western markets have followed since we already know the way of the evolution of these markets. I think we can jump in and be the first ones to be known as marketers with foresight.”
“I think it is a responsibility thrust upon Coke by the society due to huge public outcry on the issue of obesity,” he added.
Experts share that it has now become mandatory for products to display their harmful effects and then leave on the people to make a choice. Most of the brands have made people aware of the risks of excess consumption.
KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer India Subcontinent at Leo Burnett said, “Most of the global brands have established a relationship with the consumers by being honest and clear, and this is a step towards honesty, transparency and good relationships. Brands should adopt this in India also because it builds an emotional connect with the consumers. Why do you think people had forgiven Cadbury even when it had worms inside it? It was because of the trust and emotional affinity with the brand. This kind of a communication helps in building the trust and relationship with the consumers.”
Recently, McDonald's also announced plans to promote informed decision-making by labeling its restaurant menus with calorie counts. KFC also came out with grilled chicken to overcome the image of being in the business of unhealthy foods.
Abraham Koshy, Professor, Marketing, IIM Ahmedabad said, “In India, none of the brands are hammered by the public because there are so many other things to worry about in his country. Life itself is a challenge for the common man. Increasingly, there has been some awareness in some parts but there is a long way to go. Nobody raises a voice, so none of the brands in India are forced to take such steps.”
He believes that the Tata Tea campaign titled ‘Jaago Re’ has created awareness about the brand with a bold principle stance. According to him, brands need to take interest in protection of the consumers and consumers need to make informed decisions. Buying a product through information from various knowledge sharing platforms and not through persuasive advertising is the way forward. Till that moment comes, companies will hide necessary information from the consumers.
It brings us to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong in spreading a socially responsible message in the interest of the nation’s health but in order to create a healthy society, brands will have to change their product portfolio. It is high time that brands need in India wake up to the public issues and establish a healthier business model.