Coca Cola last week announced to the world that, to everybody’s surprise, they are playing an important role in preventing obesity. They explain the steps Coca Cola has taken to tackle obesity, including putting nutritional information on the front of their cans, and demonstrate the fun-filled activities which will burn off the calories contained in a can of Coke, like walking the dog or doing a victory dance.
Yet in a piece published on The Conversation, Darren Powell makes the argument that Coca Cola’s new marketing campaign might be more cynical than it first appears. Coke also funds and implements many nutrition and physical education programs in schools across the world. “These programs,” writes Powell, “are part of the company’s global “corporate social responsibility” strategy and act as a type of reputation insurance. They divert attention away from controversial subjects, such as the impact of marketing food and beverages to children…The company also develops goodwill with another important group – policymakers – and continues to successfully avoid stricter regulatory controls in areas such as fat taxes, food labelling systems, legislation and restricted marketing to children.”
Addressing obesity, then, diverts attention away from other issues and solutions that may not benefit the corporate image. The new initiative against obesity bears a resemblance to what Dr Guy Pearse, speaking last year at the Festival of Dangerous ideas, refers to as the “Greenwashing” phenomenon (watch the video here). This is where companies promote their reduced greenhouse emissions, yet use language and selective statistics to disguise what is often a total increase in the greenhouse emissions required to make their products.
Pointing in particular to a billboard erected by Coca Cola in Manila, Pearse says “Here we see Coke’s billboard made with 300, 600 little tea plants, each soaking up carbon dioxide. Now never mind that you would need a billboard as long as Manhattan and eight times the size of the Empire State Building to off-set Coke’s carbon footprint, one billboard in Manila communicates the planet-saving look that they’re after.”
It is this sort of marketing – not only Coca Cola, of course, but all corporate branding – which has people like Darren Powell and Guy Pearse questioning just how helpful corporations are in tackling global problems.