Coca-Cola is responding to Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to ban large sodas in New York City with an aggressive PR campaign that asserts accessibility to large sodas is a personal freedom issue. The strategy posits that legislation that bans large sodas infringe upon an individual’s right to purchase how much of what they want to drink. But are consumers ready for such an emotional public relations campaign from a large and powerful corporation?
Coca-Cola faces a jaded marketplace. With widespread distrust of big corporations, a disdain for greedy capitalism, and general consumer weariness from health care debates and election-year posturing , the public may not be receptive to Coca-Cola’s attempts to politicize the issue. The brand should ask itself this question: Will the public perceive Cola-Cola’s PR strategy as a sincere attempt to protect their freedoms or a cynical ploy to line their own pocketbooks and push large quantities of an unhealthy product onto consumers?
The campaign includes the creation of a new group, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, that implores website visitors not to let Mayor Bloomberg ban drinks larger than 16 ounces.
For Coca-Cola this new strategy marks a serious departure from their typical feel-good PR campaigns. This all-American brand is now positioning itself as not just a delicious, innocent and enjoyable beverage, but a symbol of something all Americans care deeply about: individual freedom.
From a PR standpoint, Coca-Cola must avoid looking desperate or threatened as this will only create the perception of guilt and deceptiveness. Nevertheless, the brand has chosen a strident offensive by employing an emotional, contentious and out-of-character PR strategy. It’s too early to know if the campaign is working, but the controversy has many people on both sides asking, “What was ever wrong with the 12-ounce Coke anyway?”