Soda Companies Called Out for Misleading Campaigns
22 Jun, 2012
by CBC News, via The Huffington Post Canada
Coca-Cola and Pepsi’s social responsibility campaigns are misleading and divert attention from the health risks of their products, a medical journal says.
The online journal PloS Medicine, published by the Public Library of Science, launched a series on “Big Food” Tuesday written by public health experts and advocates.
Childhood obesity has been called “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century,” and drinking sugar-sweetened beverage “has helped fuel this crisis,” Andrew Cheyne of the Berkeley Media Studies Group in California and his co-authors wrote.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) includes companies’ legal, ethical, and philanthropic responsibilities to society on top of their financial responsibilities to shareholders, they said.
“These campaigns echo the tobacco industry’s use of corporate social responsibility as a means to focus responsibility on consumers rather than on the corporation, bolster the companies’ and their products’ popularity, and to prevent regulation,” the authors wrote.
“Unlike tobacco CSR campaigns, soda company CSR campaigns explicitly aim to increase sales, including among young people.”
Pepsi’s Refresh project took advertising dollars away from the Superbowl, the single largest advertising event in the U.S., and put the money toward a social media campaign encouraging community groups to “refresh” park lands, Cheyne said.
The company hired a marketing firm to have popular musicians perform and inform youth about the project, successfully targeting those aged 11 to 31, the researchers said.
The campaigns serve to distract from the soda industries’ core business, Cheyne said.
Strong marketing forces
Soft drinks have become a cultural phenomenon, said nutrition professor Susan Whiting of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
Having a bottle of pop once a month used to be a big deal, but now it is accepted with meals, Whiting said.
“We are consuming a huge amount of sugar and not knowing it,” Whiting said.
Public health departments and regulators worked to expose how the tobacco industry’s products are dangerous and even deadly. That information galvanized public support, Cheyne said.
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