Coke gets busted by ACCC

Persistent imbibers of this blog will dimly remember me making a bit of a fuss about an ad that Kerry Armstrong did for Coke late last year. In the ad, Kerry was concerned that we might believe that Coke:

  • Makes you fat;
  • Rots your teeth; and
  • Is packed with Caffeine.

So she got busy busting these outrageous myths. In response I suggested that I couldn’t swallow the line that a food whose only constituent (besides water) is sugar is entirely good for you. I even went so far as to suggest that (gasp) Coke might be sugar-coating the truth somewhat.

It seems the folks over at the ACCC were just as worried, saying yesterday “After seeing the Myth Busting campaign the ACCC was immediately concerned about the misleading messages it was likely to send to consumers”.

The ACCC flew into action, and a mere 6 months later have given Coke a good strong talking to. They saidCoke’s messages were totally unacceptable, creating an impression which is likely to mislead that Coca-Cola cannot contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay. They also had the potential to mislead parents about the potential consequences of consuming Coca Cola.

Oh, but it wasn’t just a tongue lashing. Coke also received sound beating with a feather. They must also:

  • publish a corrective advertisement in; The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Courier Mail, Adelaide Advertiser, The West Australian, and the Hobart Mercury
  • publish a corrective advertisement for a period of 28 days on
  • publish for six months on the correct levels of caffeine for Coca-Cola, Diet Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero and compare this with the levels of caffeine in the same amounts of tea brewed from leaf or teabag and instant coffee, and
  • implement a trade practices law compliance review.

I’m sure you’d agree that a pounding like that will make Coke (and the rest of Big Sugar) quake at the mere thought of trying that sort of thing on again. Coke have just been found to have run ads patently stating that ‘black was white’ and the best our regulators can come up with it that they run an ad along the lines ‘actually we got that a bit wrong and it turns out black is, after all, black’.

Six months after the fact, I’d be surprised if anyone (well, except me) even remembers the ad, let alone takes in the fact that some porky pies might have been told. No the damage was well and truly done in October. The public was told that Coke is not bad for you after all and for a fair number of them, I’ll wager the message stuck.

Some will suggest that I’m being less than kind to the ACCC. At least they did something. But it all looks too much like a win-win outcome to me. Coke wins by getting the ad through in the first place and achieving all the impact it planned for. And the ACCC wins by looking like a regulator of misleading advertising. The only loser is the punter who came away believing there was nothing wrong with drinking Coke or feeding it to his kids (at least till he sees the ‘corrective advertisement’, I’m sure).

An interesting postscript to this little saga is that the industry funded Advertising Standards Bureau had no problems at all with the ads when it determined complaints about them last year.  I guess that’s the difference between a regulator and a self-regulator.

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