Soda Companies Misleading In Corporate Social Marketing
June 21, 2012

Soda Companies Misleading In Corporate Social Marketing

Connie K. Ho for

From Nicki Minaj to Britney Spears, superstars have endorsed sugary beverages, adding glitz and glam to the marketing of soda industry leaders like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. This can be an effective tactic in selling product, but does nothing to educate consumers on the health risks of the sugary drinks.

U.S. health experts recently reported in this week´s PLoS Medicine that health advocates need to develop effective public health campaigns to inform the public and policymakers about the hazardous effects of sugary beverages.

The PLoS Medicine series focus on the theme of “Big Food” and studies the activities of the food and beverage industry in regards to health issues. In the Policy Forum article, the authors highlighted actions by industry leaders in creating misleading corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns that distracted the public from knowing their products´ health risks. They detailed how large corporations had created multinational campaigns that were elaborate and expensive. Media and health experts from Berkley, California and Boston, Massachusetts penned the article.

"It is clear that the soda CSR campaigns reinforce the idea that obesity is caused by customers' ℠bad´ behavior, diverting attention from soda's contribution to rising obesity rates," wrote the authors in the article.

The authors believe that soda companies have not yet experienced the social stigmatization or regulatory pressure that Big Tobacco companies face. However, the public has shown increasing concern as the obesity epidemic continues to grow. As such, the authors argue that soda companies have developed comprehensive CSR campaigns sooner than the tobacco companies did in the past. In responding to health concerns about their products, the soda companies hearken the tobacco industry´s use of USR in ads to place the responsibility on the consumer instead of on the company. In turn, the corporations hope to evade regulation, while increasing the popularity of various products and strengthening the companies´ reputation.

The article notes that, in contrast to tobacco CSR campaigns, the soda companies' CSR campaigns focus on young people in hopes of increasing sales of their products.

"For example, CSR campaigns that include the construction and upgrading of parks for youth who are at risk for diet-related illnesses keep the focus on physical activity, rather than on unhealthful foods and drinks. Such tactics redirect the responsibility for health outcomes from corporations onto its consumers, and externalize the negative effects of increased obesity to the public," remarked the authors in the article.

The similarities between Big Tobacco and soda companies in terms of products and marketing are further emphasized in the article.

"Emerging science on the addictiveness of sugar, especially when combined with the known addictive properties of caffeine found in many sugary beverages, should further heighten awareness of the product's public health threat similar to the understanding about the addictiveness of tobacco products," commented the authors in the article.

In concluding the article, the authors propose that public health professionals continue to track the progress of CSR campaigns by soda corporations.

"Public health advocates must continue to monitor the CSR activities of soda companies, and remind the public and policymakers that, similar to Big Tobacco, soda industry CSR aims to position the companies, and their products, as socially acceptable rather than contributing to a social ill," noted authors in the article.