Why Coke and Pepsi Will Talk Obesity, but Not Diabetes

We’ve all seen Coke and Pepsi‘s pro-health, obesity-prevention campaigns that insist their sweet beverages can be a part of an active, healthy lifestyle, especially given their calorie-free options. But these ads never seem to mention diabetes, which is quickly becoming an even bigger PR problem for sugary brands than obesity. As it turns out, there’s a reason for the glaring omission.

Adweek reports that information released by Wall Street bank Credit Suisse and research done by Georgetown University show that most people who saw a sugary soda ad with a pro-exercise, anti-obesity message reacted with a positive attitude toward the products’ parent brand. When the ad was changed to send an anti-diabetes message, however, participants’ attitudes toward the brand became 37 percent more negative.

That’s a huge shift in reaction.

“People are not willing to punish the brand for obesity, which seems like a lifestyle problem. But diabetes is considered a disease, and many consumers see the parent brand as contributing to it,” said Kurt Carlson, a Georgetown marketing professor who oversaw the study.

Though trying to sugar-coat the diabetes issue (no pun intended) seems to rub consumers the wrong way, the brands’ decision to simply ignore the issue won’t make it go away, either; Doctors are increasingly linking sugary beverages to diabetes, and consumers are taking heed. “We found that 90 percent of doctors in the United States, U.K. and Asia are convinced that excessive sugar consumption causes Type 2 diabetes,” said Stefano Natella, head of Global Equity Research at Credit Suisse. The report also says that about 43 percent of added sugars in our diets come from sweetened beverages.

A Pepsi rep had this to say on the subject, “We offer a diverse portfolio of beverage choices to meet a range of consumer needs.”


Meanwhile, a rep for Coke said that the company is helping build 100 fitness centers in U.S. schools to promote physical activity. The big “D word” was skirted altogether (and not too gracefully), as both companies declined to say if they will address diabetes concerns in future marketing.

Though it’s risky to address something that consumers so clearly react negatively toward, ignoring the elephant in the room will likely only cause it to grow larger and larger until the brands’ options are only two: address it, or let it crush them.

Recommended articles