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.