As you well know, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partner Coca-Cola is fond of patting itself on the back for its social responsibility efforts and self-imposed limits on marketing to children. In his best-selling book Salt Sugar Fat, Michael Moss pulls back the curtain on that charade:
- “Coca-Cola was an early adopter of self-imposed curbs on its advertising, and it drew a bright line at marketing to kids under twelve. Coke abstained from placing its advertising on any programs — television, radio, mobile phones, or the Internet — where more than half of the viewers were elven years old or younger. In 2010, they made this policy even stricter by lowering the threshold: Coke will now walk away from programs where only a third of the viewers are under twelve.”
- B”ut the self-imposed restraint on children, he pointed out, had its limits. In reality, it applied only to media dvertising, not the invaluable marketing that [former president of the Coca-Cola Company] Robert Woodruff had first identified: kids in their special moments. “If you think in terms of Coke’s presence in ballparks and every place kids go, there was certainly marketing to kids going on,” Dunn said. Moreover, once those kids turned twelve, even before they could be officially called teenagers, they were lumped with the 680 million teenagers on the planet who were fair game for every last ounce of marketing firepower Coke would muster.”
- “Magically, when they would turn twelve, we’d suddenly attack them like a bunch of wolves,” said [former Coca-Cola marketing executive Todd] Putman.
- “In many ways, teenagers are even fatter targets than younger kids. Starting at twelve, kids have more allowance to spend, travel to and from school on their own, and often leave the school grounds for lunch. Most critically, they begin to form the likes and dislikes that will define them for the rest of their lives. Coke studied these metrics, of course, and planned its campaigns accordingly. “Say kids started drinking 250 soft drinks a years,” Dunn told me. “They tend to carry that consumption behavior all the way through their life. Then it was a brand battle from that point on, because the core brand decision – i.e., I’m a Coke Drinker, I’m a Pepsi drinker, I’m a Mountain Drew drinker – tends to be made by the time people are in their mid to late teens.”
- “As important as teenagers were to Coke in establishing loyalty to the brand, much of the company’s marketing effort was directed at young adults, where the goal was to sustain and grow consumption rates. In this matter, Coke left nothing to chance. It created an entity whose task is to guide the marketers toward their targets with laser precision. Called the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, it plumbs the social science of shopping to identify the ways in which both teens and adults can be made more vulnerable to persuasion.”
It’s a real shame that, rather than shine the spotlight on Coca-Cola’s troublesome behavior, the Academy appears to sit back and allow the soda giant to spin its usual web of deflection meant to position it as some sort of savior and champion of health and wellness. Alas, as long as Coca-Cola continues to financially sustain the Academy, we can expect this insidious complicit silence to continue.
For years, the Academy has lamented that its constituents — registered dietitians — are not recognized as “the nutrition experts”. Surprisingly, this apparent demand for automatic respect is never linked to the notion that perhaps without ties to the companies that have largely helped create the current public health crisis, the Academy would be able to *earn* respect by being an independent organization without allegiances to Big Food and Big Soda.