I have been writing for a long time about Coca-Cola Co.'s unethical marketing of its obesity-producing products, especially to children. For example, though Coca-Cola vowed to stop advertising directly to audiences that were composed of more than 35% children1 in the 200 countries and territories in which it operates,2 its promises were found to be false.
While it said it would stop advertising on children's TV, Coke still advertises on family-oriented TV, at amusement and theme parks and in other child-rich venues, reported the Center for Science in the Public Interest.3 Coca-Cola also said it would cease using characters who strongly appeal to children under 12, yet it still uses its holiday polar bears4 to sell its products — even as I write this.
And there's more, as the late-night ads say. Not content to just continue advertising to kids despite its vows, in December 2019, Coca-Cola North America debuted its "Insiders Club" — a whole new way to stick with Coke products.
Fattening Beverages Delivered Directly to Your Door
What is the Coca-Cola Insiders Club? It is a subscription service that gives "fans the opportunity to taste some of 20-plus new drinks launching in early 2020," without having to wait for the new brands to hit the stores, says Coca-Cola North America.5,6
Members of the Insiders Club will receive a monthly shipment of new beverage brands ranging from flavored sparkling water to Coke Energy, along with "a few surprises and swag"7 for a small monthly fee.
To add urgency to joining the Insiders Club, Coca-Cola limited the number of subscribers who could join to 1,000 and the slots filled up in three hours.8 Latecomers who had been shut out were told they could join the waitlist.9
The Insiders Club is a cross between a loyalty program and an e-commerce subscription service. Coca-Cola says it got the idea of cultivating "loyalists" who want early access to a new product from the success of Coke Cinnamon. The subscription idea came from the success of meal kits and other items now sold through subscriptions.
It is a novel way to enjoy Coca-Cola products, where members can "enjoy the ease of having hand-picked products arrive on their doorstep, and the Christmas morning-like joy of opening up a mystery box each month," Coke says of the new program.
But not everyone agrees about the "Christmas morning-like joy" the Insiders Club will bring. Posted comments that initially greeted the announcement included, "So you want me to pay you $10 a month to be a test rat for Type 2 diabetes?" and "Poisonous garbage … should be illegal for kids under 16."10
Clearly, many realize the Coca-Cola Insiders Club is actually an Obesity Subscription Service. Shameless Coca-Cola strikes again.
Coca-Cola’s Hand in Scientific Research
When the Coca-Cola Co. was caught trying to secretly influence health and sugar science, it vowed greater transparency. Coca-Cola’s then chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent wrote a 2015 Wall Street Journal op-ed that admitted the company had made mistakes in the way it:
“ … engaged the public health and scientific communities to tackle the global obesity epidemic that is plaguing our children, our families and our communities… I am disappointed that some actions we have taken to fund scientific research and health and well-being programs have only served to create more confusion and mistrust.”11
But articles that appeared in The BMJ12 and the Journal of Public Health Policy13 in 2019, using data obtained by the nonprofit consumer and public health watchdog organization U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), showed that Coca-Cola is still controlling research.
Despite lacking day-to-day control over research conducted with Louisiana State University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Toronto and the University of Washington, Coke can still suppress unfavorable findings without even giving a reason. Responding to the revelations, Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, said the research:14
“ … demonstrates what we have all long suspected. Companies that sponsor research make sure that they get what they pay for. The study documents the involvement of Coca-Cola in many aspects of developing research projects.
It is no surprise that its funded research typically comes out with results that are useful for Coca-Cola marketing purposes. Industry funded research is marketing research, not scientific research.”