Social Responsibility: Does Coca-Cola Have a Good Reputation?

You can’t fool people all the time, not even most of the time. And people once unfooled, talk about the experience. That certainly is the case, Seth Godin. Have you been unfooled by Coca-Cola? We have been followers and fans of the way Coca-Cola runs its business. Even thought of them as a very socially responsible business. Now we are not so sure about their social responsibility. How about you?Here is a short video on the meaning of corporate social responsibility.

This is the thing that has us rethinking our position. Coca-Cola is being sued by a non-profit public interest group. This suit is based on the grounds that the company’s Vitaminwater products make unwarranted health claims. Here is a short video on the meaning of social check out our thoughts on creative marketing.

Remember 6 Favorite Brands and Why I Like Them So MuchThe simple fact is that the product is basically sugar-water, to which about a penny’s worth of synthetic vitamins has been added. And the amount of sugar is not trivial.

A bottle of Vitaminwater contains 33 grams of sugar, making it more akin to a soft drink than to a healthy beverage. We don’t like that, but we certainly can live with it. Doesn’t make Coca-Cola any less socially responsible in our minds. And calling the product Vitaminwater, while moving closer to the ethical, legal line, is OK in our minds.

This wasn’t the first time a lawsuit was filed on this issue. It was first filed in 2009 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI is a group of Vitaminwater customers in New York and California. It alleged that Coca-Cola took part in deceptive labeling and marketing for the soft drink. This included claims that the drink could reduce eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function.

Coke has chosen to endure multiple public slaps on the wrist because its marketing has succeeded in insulating Vitaminwater. Insulated from the negative health aura that’s engulfed soda and other forms of sugar water.

The beverage industry’s school beverage guidelines, for instance, allow for sales of Vitaminwater in high schools. Why? Because they have less sugar than soda. By comparison, a 20-ounce bottle of Coke contains 65 grams of sugar or 15 teaspoons. So where does consumer protection law stand on this issue?

The rules

Advertising must be: Truthful Have evidence to back up their claims not be unfair

Socially responsible business … What makes an ad deceptive?

It is ruled deceptive if it contains information that: Is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances material to a consumer’s decision to buy or use the product certainly looks like the series of Vitaminwater ads could be ruled deceptive, doesn’t it? I think so.

So what is Coca-Cola’s response to this lawsuit?

This part is the most difficult to swallow. They are defending their advertising and not backing down or changing their ads.

Their argument? In surprising logic, lawyers for Coca-Cola are defending the product by asserting that:“no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.

“Truly amazing. Pushes them over the social responsibility line in our minds. No question. Does this mean that you’d have to be an unreasonable person to think that a product named “Vitaminwater,” had health benefits?

Believe that a product that has been heavily and aggressively marketed as a healthy beverage, actually had health benefits? And most important, does it mean that it’s okay for a corporation to lie about its products? Lie, as long as they can then claim that no one actually believes their lies?

Forced to defend themselves in court, they are acknowledging that Vitaminwater isn’t a healthy product. But they are arguing that advertising it isn’t false advertising. Why? Because no could possibly believe such a ridiculous claim. Double amazing.

Coca-Cola words on social responsibility

Here is what the Coca-Cola Enterprise has to say about their Social Responsibility vision and commitment:

Energy conservation/climate change — reduce the overall carbon footprint of our business operations by 15% by 2020, as compared to the 2007 baseline.

Sustainable packaging/recycling — reduce the impact of our packaging. They maximize their use of renewable, reusable, and recyclable resources to recover the equivalent of 100 percent of packaging.

Water stewardship — establish a water sustainable operation in which we minimize our water use and have a water neutral impact on the local communities in which we operate. We’ll safely return the amount of water equivalent to that used in our beverages. And used in their production to these communities and their environment.

Product portfolio/wellbeing — provide refreshing beverages for every lifestyle and occasion. Helping consumers make informed beverage choices.

Diverse and inclusive culture — create a culture where diversity is valued. Every employee is a respected member of the team. Our workforce is a reflection of the communities in which we operate. Seems like good words to live by, doesn’t it? What we would expect from a solid, socially responsible business. Helping consumers make informed choices? Seems like a big discrepancy versus their Vitaminwater advertising doesn’t it?

So what good are a socially responsible vision and commitments if they are not followed? The worst case of deceptive advertising out there? Absolutely not. But we would expect more honesty and social responsibility from Coca-Cola. Don’t you agree?

Mike Schoultz writes about improving the performance of business. Bookmark his blog for stories and articles.