The Advertising Standards Authority’s comprehensive rejection of Coca-Cola’s Glaceau Vitamin Water advertising campaign highlights an unappetising facet of the soft drinks giant’s communications strategy. The rejected health claims in the ads reveal an underlying attitude which is at best naive about health trends, and at worst downright cynical.
The key problem is the positioning of the Glaceau range as something healthy. It is not. As the ASA pointed out, no 500ml bottle of a soft drink which contains 26% of our recommended daily allowance of sugar could reasonably be considered healthy. Coke sought to get around this inconvenient truth by exploiting the so-called functional food platform. The drinks are vitamin-enhanced, therefore they must be healthy. And what health benefits they apparently confer! Drink this stuff and you can kiss goodbye to the doctor’s surgery, because you’ll remain in rude good health. One ad also suggested that Glaceau is more nutritious than Brussels sprouts (“more muscles than brussels”), though when challenged Coke rather childishly tried to pretend the slogan was an esoteric reference to Belgian action-hero Jean-Claude van Damme.
Here in action is a positioning tactic beloved of the embattled processed food industry. Rather than addressing saturated levels of, say, sugar and salt, the manufacturers seek to bypass the vexed issue of obesity by injecting their products with “scientifically-proven” healthy additives distilled in the food laboratory. A good case in point (which I recently touched upon in a column) is the breakfast cereals sector which has studiously avoided bringing down sugar levels by jumping on the neutraceutical bandwagon.
Then again, Coke’s response was pretty typical when rumbled. It meant no harm it said, the ads were just ‘humorous and irreverent’. Who could be so po-faced as to object to a bit of fun? It’s akin to the yob’s excuse: “Me and the lads was just ‘avin’ a larf” ; and about as convincing.
This is wake-up time for Coke and other purveyors of debatably healthy foods masquerading as something diametrically the opposite. By all means market them as indulgence or convenience products, but don’t play the health card. The game’s up. The Euro health police are on to you, and they won’t let up. Brussels, I’m afraid, really does have more muscles.