Marketing Beverages to Children: What Coke says, What Coke does…

This is a guest blog post by Parke Wilde, PhD

Would you say Coca-Cola, the parent company for FANTA, is marketing to children here?

Would you say Coca-Cola is marketing to children in these lesson plans for elementary school students?

If you say “yes” to either question, then do you think Coca-Cola is breaking its pledge not to advertise to children?

Coca-Cola’s pledge says:

We have a global Responsible Marketing Policy that covers all our beverages, and we do not market any products directly to children under 12. This means we will not buy advertising directly targeted at audiences that are more than 35% children under 12. Our policy applies to television, radio, and print, and, where data is available, to the Internet and mobile phones.

I can think of some ways that Coca-Cola could say these marketing efforts are consistent with the pledge. Perhaps one could find research showing that the FANTA cartoon characters are designed to appeal to 13-year-olds but not 11-year-olds. Perhaps the websites where these characters appear have a children’s audience share under 35%.  Perhaps the lesson plans don’t qualify as “marketing.” Perhaps the use of the word “directly” is supposed to give the marketers some wiggle room.

Still, under any of these explanations, the detailed defense only serves to show how empty the pledge is.

This post was provoked by reading the Rudd Center’s new report on marketing sugar-sweetened beverages to children (.pdf).

Parke Wilde teaches and writes about U.S. Food Policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Read his blog – US Food Policy


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  • Mike Lieberman

    Unfortunately, the corporations have the power to do whatever they want. It’s up to us to truly educate others on what’s happening. Can’t rely on government or the corporations.

  • CT

    With respect to the toolkit, I do not think this violates the marketing pledge.  The pledge refers to traditional marketing (tv, radio, print), not a physical facility like the toolkits are referencing.  I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but I don’t think what they are doing is direct marketing to kids per the pledge.  

  • Jendoop

    Have you heard of Coke’s exclusivity contracts with school districts? I have a friend in Texas who cannot pack any beverages in her kid’s lunches that aren’t Coke products (including their Minute Maid or other subsidiaries). In return Coke supports the school district monetarily. This kind of arrangement is scary and I wonder how it’s legal? Especially considering their so-called pledge of not marketing to children. 

  • Dreena Tischler

    I am completely appalled by this.  And I find it even more appalling that ANY teacher would fall for this thinly veiled disguise. Maybe they don’t fall for it, I don’t know.  Any way, as always, I appreciate you bringing this news to us.