When Coke isn’t the Real Thing

COKENZ2 150x150 When Coke isnt the Real Thing

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Coca-Cola.

Death by Coca-Cola? The Coca-Cola Company is waging a PR battle in New Zealand after a coroner found that its signature Coke product likely contributed to the heart attack and subsequent death of a young woman, Natasha Harris. The coroner said this week  that the amount of Coke drunk by Harris likely created a metabolic imbalance resulting in an irregular heartbeat. He called for Coca-Cola to put warning labels on its products that make clear the dangers of excessive consumption and to consider lowering the caffeine content.

By all accounts, Harris’s Coke addiction was uncommon. She is estimated to have drunk between 6-10 litres (2-2.5 gallons) per day, the equivalent of more than 2 pounds of sugar and nearly 1000 milligrams of caffeine.  Routinely vomiting and having no remaining teeth of her own, one or more of her eight children was reportedly born with no tooth enamel. Even the coroner conceded that Coca-Cola could not be held responsible for Harris’ irresponsible use of its beverage.

When Harris died three years ago, Coca-Cola resisted the implication that its soda could be linked to her demise. This time around, Coca-Cola is saying it is “disappointed” in the coroner’s findings because there is no conclusive proof that Coke was a substantial factor in Harris’ death. Media outlets around the world are unmoved and sceptical.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Coca-Cola. When the coroner says your product contributed to someone’s death – and common sense supports that view – saying “Did not!” is guaranteed to create new problems and additional coverage.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Aim at the perception not the reality. While the coroner’s report may well have legal holes to be later fought in a court, the real battle here is the reputational risk of Coke being seen as inherently dangerous. Coke is not a nutritionist’s best friend but then again, neither does it kill people on a regular basis. A more persuasive statement would have been to point to the coroner’s own acknowledgement and stress that anything, including water, can be damaging when it’s taken in such dramatic excess. With a response like that, Cocoa Cola may only have had to deal with one day of troubling press coverage and not the multiple it is now facing.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Hillary Clinton. For turning the tables in an argument, the prize must go to the now-former Secretary of State, who testified this week at a congressional hearing regarding the deaths of US personnel in Benghazi, Libya. The PR turning point? When Hilary fired off her exasperated question, “What difference does it make?” in response to one particularly long-winded question from a committee member. Rhetorically asked with a flash of obvious irritation, this was THE moment that captured the media. Bad news for the committee, but good news for Clinton; her question implied that the scandal critics and pundits were hoping for was a non-starter.  Ah! The power of a question to change the conversation.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO TO) Coca-Cola. In a reaction to never-ending statistics about the rise of metabolic syndrome – the name now given to the grouping of damaging physical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension – Coke launched a new initiative called “Coming Together.” In the heartwarming commercial, Coke assures us that “all calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola.” Translation: We’re blameless! Result? Critics pounced. The PR problem is that this tactic is akin to sharks saying they’re not dangerous unless you insert your leg in their mouths. Metabolic syndrome is a national conversation, but Coke must realize it’s one they cannot possibly be a part of without looking self protecting and insincere. Yes a calorie is a calorie but sugared sodas have never been the healthy eater’s friend.Have they?

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” PR AWARD TO Beyoncé. After a rousing rendition of the national anthem at President Obama’s inauguration, rumors began to swirl: Was that performance live, or did Beyoncé lip-sync? Given the condemnation and amount of media attention this question was given, one would think lip-syncing was on a par with treason. The temperature on the mall hovered around 40 degrees; who could blame Beyoncé for not wanting to take chances with such a public performance? Much ado about nothing, and Beyoncé, whose megafame invites examination of her every move, would be wise to remain silent and keep them guessing.

Coke: Don’t Sugar-coat the Issue

RhonaApplebaum 28750 011 300x200 Coke: Dont Sugar coat the Issue

The PR Verdict: “F” for Coke and Rhona Applebaum.

Pity Dr. Rhona Applebaum, Coca-Cola’s vice president of science and regulatory affairs.  She has the uphill battle of giving Coke’s response to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale of sodas in containers larger than 16 oz.  The ban, which would apply only to places other than grocery or convenience stores, has the food and drink lobby agitated. So what does Coca-Cola think?

Applebaum says the issue is about public health.  Appearing on CNN and talking in confusing metaphors, she said “Being gusty does not mean being right,” and “Stepping into traffic is not a leadership moment.”  Whatever that means, bottom line, Coke’s PR message is that obesity is about physical activity and a balanced diet.

With a long list of celebrities and opinion formers coming out in favor of the ban, Coca-Cola might be on a losing streak.  No one disagrees that smaller portions are part of a logical solution to obesity.  The smarter tactical move for Coke would be to make a conciliatory gesture and get on board.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Coca-Cola.  Claiming you are as concerned about diabetes and obesity as the next person while advocating the sale of jumbo sodas is a hard sell.  Why resist the flow toward health for consumers?

PR Takeaway:  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In any PR issue, it’s important to follow the groundswell of public opinion.  On this one, despite some nanny state concerns, Bloomberg seems to be winning the day.  Applebaum’s comments might have sounded so much more convincing if she had simply conceded that this was an interesting first step.  The ban, after all, is limited in scope.  Why not agree with it, and then move the conversation onto the broader issues that ultimately take soda drinks out of the direct firing line?

To read more and see the interview, click here.