I wouldn’t want to be in Coca-Cola’s C-suite these days. I definitely would be losing sleep. Leadership knows there’s an elephant in the room. They’ve rationalized ways to minimize the impact, but will that be enough in today’s world? Or, will the brand lose credibility as more and more people get fed up?

It may take years, but I do believe — without a drastic return to their brand mission — Coca-Cola eventually will fall from grace.

A band-aid over a deeper problem

Let’s look first at USA Today’s September 23rd article noting Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s announcement of a shared goal to reduce the number of beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20% by 2025.

2025? That’s 11 years away. As the article goes on to reveal, the commitment isn’t to reduce the actual calories or sugar in a 12-ounce can of conventional soda. Instead, the beverage companies pledge to take specific actions to reduce soft drink calorie consumption — sell smaller portion sizes, increase promotion of other “healthier” products, provide calorie counts and promote calorie awareness on the vending machines, fountain dispensers and retail coolers that they control nationwide.

Misalignment with the brand mission

None of that truly addresses the elephant in the room, though. Coca-Cola and these other beverage companies sell and intend to continue to sell unhealthy products. The high sugar and caloric content of their drinks are among the factors fueling today’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. How can Coca-Cola continue to defend their brand’s mission stated on their website?

“To refresh the world …
To inspire moments of optimism and happiness
To create value and make a difference.”

True — in 1902, when Coca-Cola was founded, the evils of lavish sugar in one’s diet weren’t fully understood. But today, scientific evidence for the toxicity of sugar and aspartame is well documented, and Coca-Cola continues to sell and intend to sell products filled with such things.

Growing press on controversial actions

The present lack of alignment with their brand mission is echoed in other actions. Coca-Cola recently invested in Monster Beverages (a $2-billion stake). There’s little doubt this will make lots of money for the company. But again, this is at the expense of public health. Caffeine-laden Monster drinks have been fatal for an unlucky few who wanted an energy boost, but got death instead.

Add to this the law suits filed against Coca-Cola claiming false advertising for their Vitamin Water as a healthy beverage when it is, in fact, a noncarbonated soda containing citric acid, crystalline fructose, and 8 teaspoons of sugar (per 20-ounce serving). On top of that, Coca-Cola has come under fire for promoting supposed “health” brands like Odwalla juices that actually contain GMO ingredients.

Changing tides and savvy consumers

How long will the general public allow offending food companies like Coca-Cola to dance around the core issue before the strength and financial value of these companies’ brands take a major hit?

Not long. It’s already in the works. Soda sales are down as the public becomes educated on the issue of sugar in our diets. Today’s consumers are seeking more from companies. They want to be loyal to brands driven by purpose — purpose beyond simply making money. In an age of transparency, they’ve grown savvy to what these attention-worthy brands truly look like. And, they’ve become less tolerant of exploitation of people’s health.

Despite the changing tides, Coca-Cola continues to take missteps that may put them at odds with more and more consumers, jeopardizing their future. Without a more drastic return to their brand mission this high-ranking brand is bound to lose steam.

My personal recommendation to the Coca-Cola Company? Revisit your brand mission sincerely. Put your marketing budgets behind your bottled water product. Make Dasani your flagship brand. Change its bottling to red and white. It is the truly healthy drink alternative that does the public right. “Water, the Elixir of Life, brought to you by Coca-Cola.” Then and only then, will I continue to feel warm and fuzzy about the Coca-Cola brand.

Resource Referenced
Horovitz, Bruce. “Soda Giants to Cut Calories 20% by 2025.” USA Today. Gannett, 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/09/23/soft-drinks-beverages-coca-cola-pepsico-dr-pepper-snapple/16097945/%29>.
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