Coca-Cola’s Recovery from PR Turmoil

By Laurene Montfort
The Hoffman Agency, San Jose

August has been an agitating month for Coca-Cola … It all started with the company providing funding for the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit health organization that puts emphasis on exercise (over diet control) for losing weight.

I know experts argue and disagree on many health matters, but come on, what message was Coke hoping to convey? One Coke a day can keep the extra pounds away — as long as you plan on running a 5K afterwards? In my opinion, the soda company couldn’t have chosen a worse way to connect with the public.

The thing is, no one drinks Coke for its health benefits … When I open a can, I think “open happiness” or recall the “share with a friend” ad. I know that while sipping on that delicious sugary and sparkly beverage, life will get a little sweeter — but not healthier.

From a PR standpoint, I find Coca Cola’s strategy a little strange. Child obesity and our general health have become hot topics, especially in the last decade. Repositioning Coke as a healthy snack by convincing the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet was a bold move, but it backfired. The news brought on both astonishment and outrage from health experts and the media who claimed that the company was spreading a misleading message in response to the drop in soda consumption.

Despite the backlash, Coca-Cola’s response to the crisis was well-implemented from a communications standpoint. In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal, the company made a public acknowledgement of its mistakes.

“We’ll do better,” promised Coca-Cola, recognizing its mishaps and announcing its next steps in fighting the “obesity epidemic.” The company acknowledged why it was criticized, making its reaction, future objectives and apology appear more human.

Although Coke’s affirmation of a future lived in “full transparency” made me wonder what was going on before the controversy, the company seems to be back on the right track. Only the future will tell if Coca-Cola backs its words by meaningful actions.

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