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Media Training - Coke & Sugar part 1

On the 9th of May James Quincey the President of Coca-Cola Europe appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'PM'. He was interviewed by regular presenter Eddie Mair. The interview is available here...

I think that this is a great example of a large organisation doing something to break their 'default narrative' which simply reinforces their 'default narrative'...

The Coke default narrative in this case is...

"Coke is full of sugar and sugar makes us fat"

The result of Coke getting involved in anti obesity campaigns (and involved in this interview) changes the narrative to...

"We know Coke is full of sugar, but we're not going to admit that it contributes to obesity; by the way here are our anti obesity measures, which we're taking EVEN THOUGH Coke doesn't contribute to that obesity"

We're left with a modified default that portrays the organisation in an even worse light...

"Coke is full of sugar, sugar makes us fat, and The Coca-Cola Corporation doesn't care."

As the interview progresses Mr Quincey states that people 'struggle to balance what goes in and what goes out... [low calorie and sugar free options] allow people to get the balance right.' Or in other words 'sorry fatty, you're too stupid to drink our drinks so we're going to offer you something else, because you've been struggling".

From the moment Mr Quincey enters the studio he has been stitched up like a kipper.

Coke is part of our collective food based cognitive dissonance. It's bad but we like to have it and we're not sure about the morality of the manufacturers. By approaching this dissonance the organisation attempts to mitigate its responsibility and (some would say) liability; they are doing good things so the problems are the consumers fault. It's not guns that kill people it's people that kill people... It's not coke that makes you fat it's YOU that makes YOU fat; you shouldn't blame the manufacturers of the tools.

Engaging the media on your core difficulty will often end badly.

When engaging someone as skilled as Eddie Mair it will end very badly.

He's prepared with multiple studies, he's prepared with the killer questions, he's prepared with 9 sugar cubes.

The challenge to eat 9 sugar cubes is a classic ploy, in this case it's the "would you feed this to your children?" question. It's side stepped and then returned to, it's the question that won't go away.

So, where does this leave an organisation that has an elephant in their room? (in this case it was a tasty sugary elephant... mmmm sugar elephant)

Weigh up the reputational risk between doing something and doing nothing. Doing nothing allows the default narrative to continue, you can acknowledge it, you can even monitor it, but it's unlikely to change rapidly without other circumstances coming into play. If you find there is a sector story you're dragged in to you need to reassess your default in that light.

Doing something attempts to change the default for the better, but the influential (in the UK) PM Programme is not the place to do it. What was the Coke Comms team thinking? Mr Quincey walked into the lions den and got delicately mauled. The key A + B demographic who hang on Eddie Mair's every word will have been delighted by the result and suddenly opinion formers are looking at the Coke initiatives and branding them 'fat wash'.

Do something you can make it worse, do nothing and it can get worse all by itself...

Which will you choose?

FYI Diabetes UK have covered sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes in this article regardless of what Mr Quincey may have said.

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