by Marion Nestle
Jan 23 2012

Catching up with items about beverage marketing

I’ve been saving up items about beverages, mostly having to do with marketing:

Soda companies vs. civic public health campaigns: In strategies reminiscent of those used by tobacco companies, soda companies are filing suit to obtain documents from public agencies all over the country.  Digging them up takes staff time and effort and slows down the real work of these agencies—the point of this approach.

Sonic’s marketing campaign, Limeades for Learning (“when you sip, kids learn”) encourages purchasers of its high-calorie drinks (620 for a medium, 950 for a large) to vote for school projects.

Dr Pepper Snapple’s diet—oops, low-calorie—10-calorie Dr Pepper Ten is aimed at men.  Men, it seems, like low-calorie sodas but squirm at the notion of diet sodas.

Coke covers both bases.  Diet Coke targets women and Coke Zero targets men in an “it’s not for women” campaign.   Is this ad offensive?  It not only excludes half the market, says Food Navigator’s Carolyn Scott-Thomas, but is

patronizing to both men and women in its reinforcement of what I had (perhaps naively) hoped were outdated stereotypes….It deliberately picks at the edges of our comfort zones.  Is it OK to be sexist if it’s done with irony?…Provocation is a blunt instrument.  It may prove effective for sales—perhaps as effective as sexually explicit marketing—but it is still crude and obtuse.”

She asks: “Would this ad be offensive if it involved a bunch of redneck clichés and proclaimed ‘it’s not for blacks’?  You bet it would.”

Coca-Cola has launched a global music effort to connect with teens.  Coke CEO Muhtar Kent says:

Our success in growing our sparkling category today depends on our ability to grow and connect with teens, the generation of tomorrow.

Pepsi, not to be outdone, has invented a social marketing vending machine for the digital age.  Buy a drink and you now have the opportunity to send one as a gift to a friend or a random stranger.

The Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics weighs in on sports and energy drinks.  Its tough report begins with the statement that “Sports and energy drinks are being marketed to children and adolescents for a variety of inappropriate uses.”

Sports drinks…may contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring and are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.

In contrast…energy drinks also contain substances that act as nonnutritive stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, l-carnitine, creatine, and/or glucuronolactone, with purported ergogenic or performance-enhancing effects.

The report ends with this unambiguous conclusion:

the use of sports drinks in place of water on the sports field or in the school lunchroom is generally unnecessary. Stimulant containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.

In response, Red Bull says it is not marketing to children.  Instead, it says, the company totally follows the “agreed codes of practice for the marketing and labelling of energy drinks.”

Just for fun I looked up some advertising budgets reported in Advertising Age. For 2010, Coca-Cola spent $267 million just to advertise Coke, Pepsi spent $154 million just to advertise Pepsi and another $113 million for Gatorade, and Dr. Pepper spent a mere $22 million for Snapple.

These expenses are just for those individual products and just for campaigns run through advertising agencies.  Pepsi’s total advertising budget that year was $1.01 billion.

Water, anyone?




  • Margeretrc

    Companies are going to advertise. They have to to sell their product. Advertising to children and truth in advertising can be regulated, but other than that, there is not much we can do except ignore–or boycott a company whose ads we find offensive. I can’t remember the last time I purchased any of the above mentioned beverages and I will continue to ignore the ads. I drink water from the tap (filtered). Period. On the rare occasions I might need a sports drink, natural coconut water fills the bill. However, if I did buy such drinks, I would certainly boycott Coca Cola for it’s truly offensive “it’s not for women” campaign.

  • Lorraine Lewandrowski

    How about a good old fashioned glass of milk: pure, nutrient-dense and produced by 54,000 farms scattered over several milksheds? Dr. Nestle, in the northeast, our local beverages do not come out of thin air. They are produced by the family farmers of the Northeast, primarily off of the extensive grassland resources close to the Northeast Corridor. Milk-good for the rural economies and environment of the Northeast and good as a satisfying “real” beverage. People, get off the corporate industro-beverages and drink real milk, real fruit juices and good water from your municipal water supply.

  • Kat

    World hunger could be solved with the budget of one company’s marketing budget.

    Land of opportunity, indeed.

  • Daniel

    Yeah, I’ll have a glass!

  • what’s wrong with water? I know lots of people will say it needs to be filtered and “pure” but I get along just fine drinking water from the tap. I’m healthier and I’m not spending much (any) money.

    That’s a staggering amount of money to advertise something that will shorten lives.

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  • Wow! That is alot of money spent on marketing! I personally have become addicted to Dr Pepper, and have tried to drink more water because A) its healthier and B) its free!

  • Angie

    Cherry Limeades are one of my favorite guilty pleasures and I was shocked when you quoted the calorie count for a limeade at 620 for a medium. I went to Sonic’s website and checked out this information (with the hopes of not having all my joy taken away), and it turns out, a cherry limeade comes in at 220 cals for a medium and 340 cals for a large. Not sure exactly which drink you were referring to in the article, but the numbers seem to be slightly off. A 220 cal drink isn’t great, but it is definitely not the same as a 620 cal drink.

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