Sugar Water Gets a Facelift: What Marketing Does for Soda

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Sugar Water Gets a Facelift:
What Marketing Does for Soda
Carbonated water.High fructose corn syrup. Sucrose. Sugar. Caramel color. Phosphoric acid.
Artificial flavors. Natural flavors. Caffeine. Citric acid. Potassium benzoate. Sodium benzoate.
Sodium citrate.
Without marketing, sodas would be known only for the ingredients listed on their bottles
and cans. Instead, they are known for their elaborate campaigns and catchy jingles. The three
companies that produce the majority of the industry’s 450 soft drinks—Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and
Cadbury Schweppes*—make sure of that.1 You can walk on “The Coke Side of Life” or
“Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff” (or buy both and get double the amount of branded T-shirts and
other “stuff”).
If marketing didn’t work, the Coca-Cola Company wouldn’t pay $35 million a year to co-
sponsor American Idol, and Pepsi wouldn’t have invested $1.2 billion in 2008 just to revamp
its logo. Much of the cost for this change has gone toward replacing the old Pepsi logo with
the new one everywhere it appears around the world: trucks, vending machines, stadium signs,
and point-of-sale materials.2
The marketing blitz is more than just business as usual; it’s part of the soda industry’s response
to the country’s declining consumption of full-calorie soda, which has been sliding for the
past decade. As obesity rates rise and type 2 diabetes—once unheard of in children—becomes
commonplace, more people than ever are drinking diet sodas or switching to other bever-
In recent years, the public health establishment dealt a powerful blow to the soda industry
when it demanded the removal of soda vending machines in schools. In 2006, under threat of
lawsuits and regulation, soda executives from the three top companies conceded. They also
promised to insert healthy diet or lifestyle messages into at least half of their advertising to
children under 12 years old.
Now the $72 billion carbonated soft drink industry3 is doing everything it can to keep its
current customers and attract new ones. “We’ve got to recruit new users and hold on to users
as they age,” Bil Elmore, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Bottling Company,
Consolidated, told the Wal Street Journal.4
* On May 7, 2008, Cadbury Schweppes spun of its soft drink business which is now known as Dr Pepper Snapple Group. We refer to
Cadbury Schweppes in this brief as al relevant figures are from before May 7, 2008.

So far, the industry’s amped up marketing efforts seem
Top soda brands
to be working: In spite of increased demand for diet
In 2007, the three top carbonated soft drink compa-
drinks and an industry-wide bruising from the public
nies spent a total of $608.5 million on domestic adver-
health establishment, full-calorie soda—delivering 13
tising6—more than $1 million a day in the United States
teaspoons of sugar per can—is still the most popular
alone. The top 10 selling carbonated soft drinks haven’t
drink in the United States, dominating over 70% of the
changed much in the last decade. In order of sales (with
non-alcoholic beverage market.5
their companies in parentheses), top brands include:7
What marketing tactics are soda companies using to
1. Coke Classic
distinguish their particular combination of carbonated
2. Pepsi-Cola
water, sugar, flavor, and other chemicals? Who is their tar-
3. Diet Coke
get audience? In this framing brief, we find out.
4. Mountain Dew (Pepsi Cola)
The 4 P’s of Marketing
Soda may be on “The Most Wanted List” of public health ad-
can salesmen who traveled the country spreading the Pepsi
vocates and policy makers, but its marketers present the op-
story of equality. At age 7, Ron Brown, Bil Clinton’s Secretary
posite picture. Consider the four “Ps” of marketing—
of Commerce, was featured in Pepsi’s first ad aimed at the
product, promotion, place and price. Together, they represent
Black community that demanded its stores carry Pepsi.68 The
strategies to target specific demographic groups. The object
“place” Pepsi captured with its marketing was the African
is to maintain and increase consumption of existing cus-
American community.
tomers, attract new ones, compete for customers of other
PRICE: One way the soda industry is responding to the
brands, and create a positive public image. Analyzing the four
slowdown in soda sales is to change the product’s size and
“Ps” of soda marketing is one way to understand the indus-
price. During the summer of 2008, some of Coca-Cola’s and
try’s tactics and develop effective responses.
Pepsi’s biggest bottlers replaced the 20-ouncer that sold in
PRODUCT: This is the item being marketed and the pack-
convenience stores for $1.49 with a 24-ounce bottle that cost
age in which it is sold. Sometimes, this marketing involves in-
20 cents more. Others replaced the 20-ouncer with 16-
venting a product to attract consumers who are not already
ounce bottles priced at 99 cents, less expensive than the 20-
using a product. Take Coke Zero (“Real Coke Taste, Zero
ounce bottles.69 The companies’ goal is to price the product
Calories”), created because many men do not like ordering
attractively so every demographic group wil find a perfect fit.
“diet” drinks, which they perceive to be for women who are
PROMOTION: Promotion touts the industry’s message
watching their weight. Coke Zero’s no-fril s black-and-red
about the attributes of the product and producer. It informs
bottle has been branded with a large “Z” to evoke masculine
the consumer of the product’s benefits and improves the pro-
taste. In 2007, according to SportsBusiness Journal, the com-
ducer’s public image. Soda marketers are on the cutting edge
pany spent $13 mil ion during the NCAA basketbal tourna-
of promotion, using digital marketing to send coupons directly
ment to boost the then-new product.67
to kids’ cel phones, in addition to traditional promotions like
PLACE: This is the location of sale, service and consumption,
TV ads, bil boards, point-of-sale advertising, and sponsorships.
and industry practices used in making it work. No companies
Download a text message from one of the top brands and
are better at “place” than Coca-Cola and Pepsi. For those
get a code for a free soda at your nearest fast food restaurant.
who think ethnic targeting regarding place is new, consider
Also included in soda promotion is sponsorship of sports and
the history of Pepsi: As a result of segregated regiments in
other events, philanthropic donations for health research, and
WWI , Pepsi-Cola reports that it was the only soft drink avail-
product placement such as the Coke glasses raised by the
able to African-American soldiers. By the end of that war, it
judges on American Idol.
was the soft drink of choice among that overseas group. For
Public health advocates can think of the 4 Ps for prevention.
decades, Pepsi had bragging rights to being first choice of
Using the 4 Ps of marketing to promote health, advocates
African-Americans. Walter Mack, Pepsi’s president during the
could raise the price of soda with fees or taxes, insist the prod-
1940s, hired a former executive of the National Urban League
uct is sold in smal er portion sizes, restrict where it is con-
to develop a program to increase its sales to the Black com-
sumed (place), and limit the advertising seen by children and
munity. Edward Boyd, credited by many with being the first
youth (promotion). Al of these restrictions in marketing would
to use “target marketing,” hired a team of 10 African-Ameri-
decrease consumption and the harms that come from it.

5. Diet Pepsi
I Carbonated beverages was the highest category in
6. Dr Pepper (Cadbury Schweppes)
terms of marketing expenditure directed at children
7. Sprite (Coca-Cola Company)
(ages 2-11) and adolescents (ages 12-17) ($492 mil-
8. Fanta (Coca-Cola Company)
lion, compared to $294 million for restaurant foods,
9. Diet Mountain Dew (Pepsi Cola)
the next highest category);
10. Diet Dr Pepper (Cadbury Schweppes)
I Of the $492 million, 96% was directed at marketing
What has changed is how the industry spends its mar-
to adolescents;
keting dollars.
I Carbonated beverage companies spent $21 mil ion on
advertising using Web sites, Internet, digital ads, word-
Where do soda companies spend their
of-mouth, and viral marketing. Carbonated beverage
marketing dol ar?
companies spent more on “new media” than did any
TV advertising is expensive, and most soda marketing
other food or beverage category.
dol ars stil go there (Table 1). But that is changing. TNS
I The 44 companies spent $91 mil ion on in-store mar-
Media Intel igence reports that the three dominant soda
keting and packaging of carbonated beverages, almost
companies spent less in 2007 on television than in 2006.
all of it directed toward teenagers;
According to John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage
I They spent $117 million marketing carbonated bev-
Digest, soft drink industry spending on measured media
erages using traditional promotional activities such as
advertising—broadcast, bil boards and print—is down “be-
product placement ads appearing before or within a
cause they are spending on different kinds of marketing—
video game; ads preceding a home video or theatrical
promotions, email, handing out samples, and the like.”8
movie feature, including license fees paid to use a
The latest figures come from Marketing Food to Chil-
third-party animated character in advertising or for
dren and Adolescents, a Federal Trade Commission study
cross-promotional arrangements; sponsorships of
of expenditures and activities by 44 food and beverage
sports teams and athletes; fees paid for celebrity en-
companies, including the big three, released in July of
dorsements; or product branding in conjunction with
2008.9 Ordered by Congress, the analysis covers only
philanthropic endeavors.
2006, the year before soda companies announced self-
Each of these marketing categories uses research and
regulatory agreements. Among its findings:
special firms to help the soda manufacturers figure out
Measured media expenditures for al audiences for soda, 2006 and 2007 (in mil ions)
Type of Advertising
Outdoor Ads
Online Display
Source: TNS Media Intel igence

how to reach consumers, including children and teens.
ipating consumers in MTV’s virtual world. Pepsi was
The fastest growing marketing techniques are digital.
the top-selling [virtual] product in 2007, moving more
than 110,000 cans that were virtually recycled and used
Soda’s digital future is now
more than 650,000 times. …”11
The future of soda advertising is being shaped mostly
In January of 2008, BetaNews reported that “virtual re-
overseas—and under the radar of most American con-
ality” (an immersive computer-generated environment
sumers—by means of digital media. Here and abroad,
that seems real to the user) is making a comeback from
soda companies are marketing on the Internet, via cell
the 1990s. But this time, it’s as an advertising tool.12
phones or other mobile devices, and through video
Reporter Jacqueline Emigh wrote: “Some people
games, integrating their digital campaigns with traditional
might be shocked by the use of kids’ Web sites for ‘im-
media like TV or billboards.
mersive advertising,’ but others might argue that kids
Through digital marketing, soda companies can fine-
have long been the targets of ads and celebrity promo-
tune their target markets, especial y for young consumers,
tional campaigns anyhow, through vehicles ranging from
in the U.S. and around the world.
Beatles cards in bubble gum packs in the 1960s, to cereal
Cal the new target Generation P for “programmers.”
ads on TV cartoon shows, since the 1950s.”13
Tim Rosta, executive vice president of integrated mar-
What’s different now is the intense, immersive, and in-
keting at MTV Networks, came up with that moniker
cessant nature of the marketing. Consider one campaign
while partnering with Pepsi Cola on a futuristic project.
from Coca-Cola, in which the company joined Nike on
Their audience, he says, is “people aged 12 to 34 who are
reportedly the most popular mobile site in Japan, dubbed
programming their own world and creating content
mobagetown. By clicking on ads and registering with or
around our shows.”10 Comfortable in the digital world,
shopping on affiliate sites, a user could pocket “virtual”
young people create identities for themselves online, con-
money and use it to play Coca-Cola-branded games and
nected to sites or programs designed especial y for them.
“buy” exclusive Coca-Cola items for the avatar. More
Users create online characters or alter egos cal ed avatars
than 1 million users signed up with Coca-Cola Mobile,
that interact in the often heavily branded “virtual” world.
as many as 350,000 users became “friends” with the
In 2007, MTV included its prime-time hit series The
Coke avatar, and 190,000 comments were left on the
Hills online in its virtual world. Users create an avatar (a
character’s blog. In March of 2008, nearly a year later,
visual representation of the user that can appear two- or
users still sported the brand’s virtual clothing online.14
three-dimensional) to interact with others in that world,
The immersive nature of digital marketing is signifi-
where they can chat, play games, and
cant first because users spend far
watch episodes of The Hil s. Pepsi
more time engaged with the brand
joined as a sponsor, creating what Ad-
than in earlier marketing like the 30-
Week referred to as a category-exclu-
What’s different now is the
second commercial on TV. The en-
sive, branded content program where
intense, immersive, and incessant
gagement is highly personal since the
characters could pump their virtual
users create their own characters
nature of the marketing.
coins to buy a drink to quench their
which are designed to be online ex-
virtual thirst. Avatars could also ac-
tensions of themselves. And, perhaps
quire Pepsi-themed clothing.
most important from the soda com-
In May of 2008, MTV unveiled a case study claiming
panies’ perspective, the marketer can col ect data on every
that linking its TV shows to Internet sites can sustain the
move—every click—the user makes, feeding the com-
interest viewers aged 12 to 34 have in the advertising as
panies’ ability to direct ever more targeted marketing
well as the entertainment. Among the study’s findings
back to the users.
was that “Pepsi’s positive brand image traits increased dra-
It’s no surprise, then, that digital marketing expendi-
matically among fans who not only watch the show, but
tures are going up. “For the first time ever,” reports
browse The Hil s content online, where Pepsi runs 30-
Christopher Bil ich of Infinita, a Japanese firm delivering
second spots and banners. Positive brand image increased
market intelligence and research, “online advertising ex-
even more among fans who played in The Hil s virtual
penditures ($4.1 billion) exceeded combined radio and
world as well … Pepsi’s products were a hit with partic-
magazine advertising expenditures.”15

motions.” Members of average
over nine minutes per visit on the site. Nearly six mil ion
rewards have been redeemed by the more than nine mil-
lion members since the site first launched in 2006.19
Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said, globally, the soda
giant has “19 million consumers, of which over 40% are
under the age of 25” registered in their databases.20
Soda sponsorship
Eliana Buk
Sports sponsorships proliferated during the late 1990s
Special codes under Sprite bottle caps for
and early 2000s. Today, say soda market watchers, the big
companies go deeper with fewer ventures. Coca-Cola’s
worldwide sports sponsorship is estimated at between
In 2006, Coca-Cola spent a total of $1.9 billion on
$800 mil ion and $1 bil ion annual y on the National As-
global marketing.16 In the summer of 2007, the com-
sociation for Stock Car Auto Racing, National Colle-
pany developed in China and brought stateside its “Sprite
giate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Hot Rod
Yard,” a real-time digital community for teenagers. To
Association, Professional Golfers’ Association of America,
accomplish this, the soda giant built its own global mo-
the U.S. Olympic Committee, and others.21
bile network. Users chat, send messages, upload and share
According to the weekly SportsBusiness Journal, Coke
digital pictures, and download free content such as ring
spent $11 million in sports media in 2006. In 2007, the
tones. Unlike other mobile social networks, the point
Journal reports, the company spent $13 million during
of entry is Sprite’s single-serving bottles, whose caps con-
the NCAA basketbal tournament to boost its new Coke
tain a printed code that can trigger a text message when
Zero, targeted to male soda drinkers who have histori-
the user signs up and enters it. With that code, users can
cally considered diet drinks for females.22
enter the Sprite digital world and customize their online
The Journal also reports that “Pepsi, whose sports
personas, just as with other social networks like Facebook
spending has dropped consistently for a number of years,
or MySpace.17
doled out $47.9 million for sports and entertainment
Another universe with music downloads, blogs and its
sponsorships in 2006, per Nielsen. Cadbury Schweppes
own currency resides at While the com-
spent $26.9 mil ion.”23 Carbonated beverage companies
pany helps the user associate person-
spent $21.1 million in 2006 on ath-
ality with brand identity, the teen is
letic sponsorships targeted just to
asked, “Ready to reinvent yourself?”
children under 18.24
The users can remake themselves by
Members of
Along with AT&T and VISA, The
creating an avatar that can hang out
average over nine minutes
Coca-Cola Company is a major
in Coke Studios, where they can
sponsor of the $350-million San
per visit on the site.
meet and chat with other avatars,
Francisco Giants’ ballpark in San
play games, and download music.
Francisco, named best sports facility
“You’ve just made millions of new
in the country by the SportsBusiness
friends!” blinks the message after registration. “People
Journal in 2008.25 The Coca-Cola brand dominates left
are cool. We’ll help you meet more of them.”18
field, giving it a carnival twist when lights come on at
Engagement in these sites is intense. MyCokeRe-
night games. The Coca-Cola Fan Lot was designed as customizes the experience for users based on
an outlet where parents can watch the game while keep-
400 pieces of information the company captures on each
ing an eye on the kids. On non-game days, the com-
user. The company can capture and record every click,
munity can enjoy the area for free. Shaped as a giant
every music download, every movement of every avatar.
Coca-Cola glass bottle, the main attraction is the Coca-
According to Promo Magazine, “That data is crunched,
Cola Superslide—located 465 feet from home plate, with
then spit back out in highly individualized messaging,
two 56-foot-long curving slides (the “Guzzler”) and two
reward recommendations, partner information and pro-
20-foot-long twisting slides (the “Twist-Off”). The bot-

ways wear just red and white. The ruddy, sack-carrying
Santa made the switch from the green, blue and other
colors he was known to wear in the 19th century to the
red suit and flowing white whiskers, which became the
standard image by the 1920s.
“It was Coca-Cola’s magazine advertisements, bill-
boards, and point-of-sale store displays that exposed
nearly everyone in America to the modern Santa Claus
Used with permission
image,” reports, the Web site that debunks
urban myths. Though they didn’t invent him, “Coca-
Cola certainly helped make Santa Claus one of the most
© S.F
Coca-Cola paid $20 million to erect the huge bottle play
popular men in America.”28
structure in the Giant’s baseball stadium.
Today, Coke is embedded in one of the biggest com-
mercial fantasies of the 21st Century—American Idol.
The Coca-Cola Company pays $35 million to sponsor,
tle weighs 130,000 pounds, rests at a 25-degree angle and
along with Ford and AT&T, the most popular show on
is 47 feet tall at its highest point.
American television.29 Being an American Idol sponsor
According to Stacey Slaughter, vice president of com-
means airing commercials during the show, posting on-
munications for the team, kids from 3 to 11 years of age
line content about the show and their sponsorship, and
gravitate toward the slide. Other attractions in this cor-
running co-branded marketing programs off-air. The
ner of Coke world include a giant baseball glove, Little
judges drink from red cups bearing the Coke logo, which
Giants Park and a “fantasy photo booth.”
also flashes behind performers on an on-stage billboard.
Few San Franciscans objected when the Coke bottle
Soda companies also use cultural symbols and icons
was proposed in 1998. Children’s advocate Margaret
to target racial and ethnic groups. In July of 2008, Pepsi
Brodkin, concerned about the message it sent to chil-
launched its Sierra Mist campaign with the tag line “Re-
dren, couldn’t dissuade the Giants from erecting the hu-
fresh your mind” and used Latino themes to create ad-
mongous bottle—and colleting $20 million from Coca
vertisements. With Latino actor Efren Ramirez,
commercials focused on humorous situations, in which
Brodkin’s objection a decade ago to the giant Coke
a marriage-obsessed woman uses karate moves on other
bottle in San Francisco’s basebal stadium fel on deaf ears.
women to ensure she catches a wedding bouquet, or a
But that was before the rise in childhood obesity was ev-
man does anything to get fashionable clothing for free.30
ident. Nobody would build a Coke-bottle-shaped play
Pepsi has also targeted the Latino community through
structure now, Brodkin says. Still, challenging the mar-
the creation of PepsiMusica, a bilingual entertainment
keters isn’t easy. Even for a seasoned advocate like Brod-
program, and their “Blue Carpet Bash,” a VIP-style party
kin, going up against one of the nation’s largest marketers
for young Latinos. “It’s important for us to reach young
can be intimidating. “When you’re pushing the envelope,
Latinos with messaging that is relevant and authentic be-
it’s scary and upsetting,” Brodkin says. “I was stunned how
cause obviously they are the future for us,” explained
alone I was when I objected to the Coke bottle. Every-
Martha Bermudez, senior manager of multicultural mar-
one, including the superintendent of schools, was sup-
keting at Pepsi-Cola North America.31,32
porting it. They’d never do that today.”27
To target African-Americans, in 2007 and 2008 Coca-
Cola announced partnerships with two popular hip-hop
Soda captures cultural icons: from Santa to
artists, Jay-Z and Big Boi, for re-launching Cherry Coke
American Idol
and Full Throttle Fury. Jay-Z played a role in creating
Childhood dreams were the stuff of Coke’s most ubiq-
the look of the new Cherry Coke can. Full-Throttle
uitous, long-term ad campaign—Coca-Cola and Santa
Fury was a good product to target at African-American
Claus. According to urban legend, the jolly, old St. Nick
males, as “the orange flavor is one that resonates…specif-
image we know today originated from annual Coke ads
ically with African-American males.”33,34 Coke’s Full
in which he wears the corporate colors. Santa didn’t al-
Throttle brand was also targeted at Latinos in Los Ange-

les, as the brand sponsored a Dodger basebal ticket give-
to an every-day beverage sold in 20-ouncers and con-
away at local grocery stores. Nearly half of those attend-
sumed in large amounts that threaten health. 7-Eleven’s
ing Dodger games are Latino.35 In Houston, Texas,
Double Gulp, a 64-ounce soda, is 10 times the size of a
where Hispanic consumers make up 40% of consumers
Coca-Cola when it was first introduced to the market.
and are “getting wealthier and spending more on food
With more than 800 calories, the Double Gulp is about
and beverages than the average consumer,” according to
one-third of the daily caloric requirement for the average
Beverage Digest, Coca-Cola is targeting them with Mex-
ican Coke, a product imported from Mexico, and with
Gatorade and other electrolyte beverages are one way
in-store materials promoting Coke as a product con-
soda companies have bridged the gap between soda and
sumed in the home by families eating together.36
so-called healthy beverages. Though infused with elec-
One of the most successful examples of target mar-
trolytes, such beverages are still filled with sugar. Soda
keting is Miles Thirst—a pitchman with a Chris Rock-
companies are taking advantage of concerns about health
like attitude who appeared on a series of Sprite ads
by marketing so-called “smart waters,” vitamin-infused
starting in 2004. With his afro, gold chains, baggy jeans,
bottled water. According to Beverage Digest, sales volume
and fur-trimmed coats, Thirst (“The Sprite Guy”) ended
grew less than 1% for regular bottled water in the first
each commercial with, “Show ‘em my motto.” The
half of 2008 after nearly a decade of triple- and double-
motto—“Obey Your Thirst”—was the slogan for Sprite,
digit growth.41 But the introduction of “functional” wa-
a Coca-Cola product. Thirst toured NBA rookie star
ters enhanced with vitamins has proven successful for
LeBron James’ crib (apartment) and became so popular
many companies. An early 2008 survey found that nearly
that a 10-inch vinyl doll with his likeness became a col-
half of respondents reported purchasing a functional food
lectors’ item.37
or beverage in the previous three months, compared to
The target marketing seems to be working, as people
about one-third of respondents in 2006.42 Vitamin wa-
of color tend to drink more soda than other groups.38
ters appear to be a place where soda marketers are play-
ing up health benefits to recover revenues from declining
Soda marketed as health food
soda sales. With fortified products, soda companies are
The latest culture in which soda is looking to embed
trying to cast a healthy glow across all their brands.
itself is health. Nutrition professor and author Marion
Some advocates say the companies have gone too far.
Nestle, who has chaired New York University’s nutrition
In January 2009, Center for Science in the Public Interest
department and helped develop U.S. Dietary Guidelines,
(CSPI) filed a class-action lawsuit against Coca-Cola for
is a voice for stopping the industry’s
making deceptive and unsubstanti-
return to its 19th century roots of
ated claims on its VitaminWater line
claiming soda can be a health boost.
“Vitamin Water is Coke’s attempt
of beverages. CSPI’s litigation direc-
Soda companies are marketing
tor Steve Gardner says, “VitaminWa-
products infused with vitamins and
to dress up soda in a physician’s
ter is Coke’s attempt to dress up soda
minerals, when there is no evidence of
white coat. Underneath,
in a physician’s white coat. Under-
these deficiencies among Americans,
it’s still sugar water,
neath, it’s stil sugar water, albeit sugar
Nestle says.39 One example: Coca-
water that costs about ten bucks a
albeit sugar water that costs
Cola’s Diet Coke Plus contains vita-
mins B
about ten bucks a gallon.”
4, B6, and B12, along with zinc
In addition to health, soda com-
and magnesium. Only people who are
Steve Gardner, CSPI
panies have jumped on the “green”
sick and real y poor (and sometimes
bandwagon and are marketing
iron-deficient, pregnant women) need
themselves as environmentally
supplements, according to Nestle. This is “misleading mar-
friendly. A February, 2008 article in Advertising Age re-
keting” and is “deluding the public into thinking these
ported a $10-million marketing effort by Coca-Cola
things are healthier, when they’re not,” she says.
promoting “sustainability.” According to Coke’s presi-
Nestle points to “a structural change in society” over
dent-general manager Hendrik Steckhan, the environ-
the past 25 years as responsible for soda moving from
mentalist frame has the advantage over the traditional
what was once an occasional treat sold in 6-ounce bottles
health-and-wellness frame in that it allows Coke to

“focus on what it support[s],” rather than what it stands
levels that are not considered public information. Spon-
against. In other words, the health message puts the soda
soring nutrition fact sheets under the association’s letter-
company on the defensive, while the environmental
head are among the supported activities.
message puts it on the offensive.44 (See our Framing
“We shape their messages,” says Diekman. “They do
Brief, Food Marketers Greenwash Junk Food for more on
not shape ours. By partnering, we can influence the in-
this tactic.)
fluencers. We tell soda companies in our guidelines that
we will not endorse their brand or promotion. We just
Soda marketing as philanthropy
want to get the right nutrition messages out and we have
From the industry’s point of view, marketing in today’s
to partner everywhere to do this. The money allows us
health climate means countering criticism by showcasing
to do more of what we do well.”49
its corporate good-guy self celebrating different cultures,
Regarding the partnership, Marion Nestle blogs: “As
joining health campaigns and being philanthropic.
long as your organization partners with makers of food
Known for its historical emphasis on recruiting
and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health
African-Americans and running successful campaigns to
will never be believed independent (translation—based
that market, PepsiCo recently accepted Latina Style mag-
on science, not politics).…”50
azine’s award as the number one of 50 top companies for
It is through philanthropy that Pepsi might at last top
Latinas. The company had participated in events for the
Coke. In the fall of 2007, the PepsiCo Foundation gave
National Society of Hispanic MBAs and National
$5.2 million to the Oxford Health Alliance, a global
Council of La Raza, and created a Latino/Hispanic Ad-
coalition aiming to prevent chronic disease. The grant
visory Board.45
supplements a three-year research and intervention proj-
In 2003, The Coca-Cola Company Foundation
ect in England, China, India, and Mexico, to prevent fur-
awarded $1 million to the American Association of Pe-
ther spread of obesity, tobacco use, and related illnesses.51
diatric Dentists Foundation (AAPD).
In Mexico, where both companies are active in
“We approached them,” says John Rutkauskas, AAPD
schools, Coca-Cola is the object of consumer group El
executive director. “The first grant we funded was for
Poder del Consumidor’s protest for al egedly portraying the
research on Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in gum that
drink as one of several beverages that school children can
is thought to reduce bacteria that cause cavities.”46
use for hydration after physical activity. The Mexican
According to the director, the AAPD foundation
group has joined the Global Dump Soft Drinks Cam-
board agreed that seeking and accepting big money from
paign, organized by Center for Science in the Public In-
the world’s top soda maker conforms to its policies of
terest. Bruce Silverglade, CSPI legal director, says he has
“serving the best interest of children’s
communicated with Coca-Cola’s
oral health, offering no actual or im-
representative about the hydration
plied endorsement of products, and
“As long as your organization
supporting AAPD’s mission and
“The Coca-Cola Company says
partners with makers of food and
it is going to look into it,” says Sil-
In October of 2007, Coca-Cola
beverage products, its opinions
verglade. “It says that the program
opened The Coca-Cola Research
about diet and health will never be
was aimed at parents, not children
Center for Chinese Medicine at the
believed independent
and by the end of 2009, it wants a
China Academy of Chinese Medical
global policy that promotes physical
Sciences in Beijing, where the soda
(translation—based on science,
activity in schools without promot-
giant was a major sponsor of the
not politics)...”
ing its brand.” According to Silver-
2008 Olympics.48
Marion Nestle
glade, the soda giant stood by its
Both Coke and Pepsi are on a
message that Coke “can be a source
three-year business partnership con-
of hydration, but they’d be wil ing to
tract with the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
reconsider” that message.52
Connie Diekman, ADA president, says that each of the
Meanwhile, PepsiCo is working with the education
organization’s six sponsors (including pharmaceutical
ministry in Mexico on “Live Healthily”—a computer-
giant GlaxoSmithKline) contribute financial y at different
centered program the soda company designed to help

children learn how to make everyday decisions such as
Drinks Association), agreed that by 2009-10, al ful -calo-
buying food and exercising.53
rie soda would be removed from elementary and middle
According to Jo Tuckman of The Guardian, a 2006 na-
schools and replaced by bottled water, unsweetened fruit
tional survey reveals that 72% of Mexican adults are
juices and low-fat milk. High schools could sell diet
“overweight or obese” and a quarter of Mexican children
drinks, unsweetened tea, lower-calorie sports drinks, and
between the ages of 5 and 11 are “too heavy”—an in-
flavored water.
crease of 40% since 2000. The reporter says that Mexican
The American Beverage Association announced a $10
officials refuse to comment “on how major players in the
million ad campaign to “educate the country” about the
junk food industry became the highest profile motors
new school beverage guidelines and the Alliance for a
behind the fight against childhood obesity.”54
Healthier Generation was born, sponsored by Clinton’s
At the end of May, 2008, the major soft drink com-
Foundation and the American Heart Association, to
panies announced that they would extend to the rest of
make sure the goals were met.
the world their American pledges to stop targeting ad-
Tricia Garrison, marketing and communications di-
vertising to children under the age of 12.
rector for the Al iance for a Healthier Generation, reports
Instead of mimicking the U.S. policy worldwide, says
that schools have been on track during the first of the
Silverglade, the companies should have agreed to the
three-year phase.
stricter curbs demanded by the British government and
“Calories from beverages shipped to schools dropped
to an international code of marketing of foods and bev-
41% across America,” she says. “There has been a 45%
erages to children that has been proposed by world-wide
reduction in shipments of full-calorie soft drinks to the
consumer organizations.
schools. And the average high school student consumed
“Coke and Pepsi are proving that it’s hard to adopt a
less than half a can of full-calorie soft drinks a week in
strong anti-obesity policy when your core products are
school (5.9 ounces), compared with a little more than a
major causes of obesity,” says Silverglade.55
full can a week (12.5 ounces) in 2004. Shipments of
water are also up by 23% since 2004.”59
Soda self-regulation
In November of 2006, nearly a year after the school
The soda industry has always self-regulated its adver-
drinks deal, the Council of Better Business Bureaus
tising, but by 2006, 43 states had enacted or introduced
(CBBB) put together the Children’s Food and Beverage
legislation to improve child nutrition in schools and the
Advertising Initiative with the companies that accounted
soda industry felt the pressure.56 A national consortium
for two-thirds of children’s food and beverage TV adver-
of public health groups and lawyers
tising expenditures in 2004. Today,
was in negotiations with the compa-
15 companies, including the big
nies when a one-time soda slugger,
three soda companies, have signed on
“Coke and Pepsi are proving
former President Bill Clinton,
to the voluntary, self-regulation pro-
emerged as dealmaker.
that it’s hard to adopt a strong
gram. Each has made a pledge to de-
At first, according to Ira Maga-
anti-obesity policy when your
vote at least 50% of its advertising
ziner, a Clinton aide working in his
core products are major causes
directed to children under 12 years
foundation, soda companies fought
of age to promote healthier dietary
against restrictions in high school
of obesity.”
choices and/or to messages encour-
beverages. The industry asked why
Bruce Silvergrade, CSPI
aging good nutrition and/or healthy
students who were nearly old
lifestyles. PepsiCo’s pledge differs
enough to fight in Iraq should be re-
from The Coca-Cola Company’s in
fused their soda of choice, said Magaziner.57 But in the
that Pepsi will advertise Gatorade, baked Cheetos and
end, the companies decided to acquiesce. Even then,
crackers, as long as the ads show kids engaged in physical
Magaziner reported that industry resistance was so strong
that they had to negotiate “drink by drink” before reach-
“Coke and Pepsi are in compliance as far as I can tell
ing agreement.58
now,” says Elaine Kolish, director of the Initiative and a
The big three soda companies, along with the Amer-
former Federal Trade Commission regulator for 25 years,
ican Beverage Association (formerly the National Soft
who is in charge of assuring industry compliance.60

Dale Kunkel, professor of communications at the Uni-
American Idol is a Coke ad,” says Kunkel.
versity of Arizona and one of the nation’s leading re-
The Coca-Cola Company says it does not advertise
searchers on children and media, is analyzing food and
to children under the age of 12 when they are 50% or
beverage industry compliance from February to May of
more of the TV viewing audience. But according to
Kunkel, that assertion is “grossly oversimplified “
“Given the stakes involved, the industry clearly needs
He says that the soda giant “is trying to say, ‘We’re not
to pick up the pace of its reform efforts,” Kunkel reports.
targeting ads in programs made exclusively for children.’
“Thus far, the data reflect only a modest improvement
But they’re implying that their advertising is not seen by
in the nutritional quality of foods advertised to children.
substantial numbers of children, and millions of children
Advertising for unhealthy foods still predominates in the
see Coke ads every day.”
most recent studies examining food marketing to chil-
The way soda companies reach children and teenagers
dren.”61 (Kunkel has not separated soda producers from
is through family entertainment. Just ask Diana Garza-
industry participants that produce food and soda.)
Ciarlante, communications director for Coca-Cola,
Nutrition expert Nestle doubts Clinton’s school deal,
North America.
the CBBB’s initiative or any self-regulation can protect
“Coca-Cola respects the sanctity of childhood,” she
children’s health.
says. “With American Idol, the issue becomes a question
“There’s so much evidence that they’re only giving
of programming. This is family programming, on the air
lip service to this,” she says. “They can’t do what they
8 p.m. or later. Even at its height of Idol popularity, chil-
say, because they won’t sell products if they do. They’re
dren under the age of 12 were 7 or 8% of the audience.
not a public health agency. Either they have to go into
Children are not alone. They’re not in a bubble. We need
another business or figure out some other way. They’re
to be realistic … That said, we have a responsibility to
not going to sell healthy products to kids.”62
present [the product] in a place appropriate to the brand.
To Nestle, the Clinton alliance was “a way for soda
Family environments are appropriate. The expectation is
companies to keep vending machines in schools.” Why
that the parent or caregiver is making the decision
are they selling water to kids in cities where water is free
whether or not it’s appropriate to be exposed to the pro-
and good quality, she asks. “They’ve convinced people
that the water from fountains is bad. Gatorade is still a
Garza-Ciarlante is correct about the percent of chil-
soft drink with sugar that has nothing to do with sports
dren in the Idol audience on average. But when account-
and gives kids the idea that they have to eat and drink all
ing for the mil ions of children the percentage represents,
the time.” The vending machines
almost twice as many American chil-
keep the brand in front of children
dren (2-11 years of age) are watching
and generate good feelings about the
American Idol than SpongeBob Square
Almost twice as many American
children (2-11 years of age) are
According to Anne Elliot, vice
What do the experts think?
watching American Idol than
president of communications for The
In 2004, an American Psycholog-
Nielsen Company, American Idol av-
ical Association task force led by re-
SpongeBob SquarePants.
eraged 29.4 million viewers during
searcher Kunkel recommended that
the 2007 season.65 The age distribu-
advertising targeting children under
tion shows that:
the age of 8 be restricted. After several years of research
I American Idol averaged 2.3 million kids (2-11), which
review, the team found that children under that age lack
is 5.7% of all kids in TV homes.
the cognitive development to understand the persuasive
I The show averaged 1.9 million teens (12-17), which
intent of television advertising and are uniquely suscep-
is 7.5% of the teens in TV homes.
tible to advertising’s influence. Children recall content
I It averaged 14.2 million adults (18-49), which is 11%
from ads to which they’ve been exposed, according to
of adults of those ages in TV homes.
the research, and preference for a product has been
Elliot looked at SpongeBob during the week of April
shown to occur with as little as a single commercial ex-
21, 2008, when there were 56 telecasts of the program:
posure and strengthened with repeated exposures.63
I SpongeBob’s average kids (2-11) audience was 1.5 mil-