Coke vows to continue with calorie message despite ad ban

Coca-Cola says it is “disappointed” with the advertising regulator’s decision to ban its global “Be OK” TV ad – which highlighted various activities consumers can partake in to burn off the 139 calories in a can of Coke – in the UK for being misleading, but adds it is still committed to communicating its energy balance message for the long term.

The TV ad, which also appeared online, depicted a Coca-Cola can and stated the message “=139 happy calories to spend on extra happy activities”. 

It then went on to feature various activities – such as “25 minutes of letting your dog be your GPS” and “75 seconds of laughing out loud” – to demonstrate how the calories could be burnt off. Further text stated “but if today you don’t feel like doing it…have a Coke with zero calories” and then went on to feature a Coke Zero product.

The ad sparked 10 complaints challenging whether the activities depicted were sufficient enough to negate the effects of consuming a can of Coke and the ad was therefore misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed it was likely to mislead because the use of a + sign between the activities was not as prominent as the on-screen text describing them, meaning viewers were likely to mistakenly believe each individual activity could burn off 139 calories. 

Speaking to Marketing Week, Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland communications director Joel Morris, said the company is “disappointed” with the ASA’s decision – not least because it was cleared by Clearcast and there have been “no problems” with the campaign where it has been broadcast elsewhere in the world.

He adds: “In March for the first time in our history we chose to talk directly about the calorie content of our brand and talk about calorie balance.

“This was a primetime campaign as we thought it was important to connect with many consumers. It reached 39 million people and this investigation was triggered by 10 complaints.

“We take the clarity of our ads very seriously and we were conservative in measuring the amount of calories people would expend [by partaking in these activities].”

In its original response to the complaints in the ASA’s adjudication, Coca-Cola said the ad “explicitly” communicated the actives needed to be done in combination to burn off the 139 calories. It also pointed to the + and = signs featured, which it said clearly meant it was the sum of the activities that amounted to the 139 calories in a can of Coke, and on-screen text that stated “calories burnt may vary”.

Coca-Cola will continue to commit to communicating the importance of energy balance in its advertising, with more campaigns planned for the coming months, Morris said. It is not planning to appeal the ASA’s decision, however, and has removed the TV ad from its UK online platforms.

Recently the company has also made other commitments to fight the global obesity problem and as part of its Responsibility Deal pledges, including launching smaller cans, reformulating Sprite and pledging additional marketing support behind its diet cola brands

The TV ad in question also sparked complaints as to whether the presentation implied a general health claim, which is not compliant with the BCAP Code, but this was not upheld by the advertising regulator.

A separate complaint about a scene in Diet Coke’s “hunk” TV ad which featured a female actor rolling a can of the drink towards the hunk’s lawnmower was cleared by the watchdog this week, despite prompting a complaint the action was “irresponsible” and likely to condone or encourage dangerous behaviour.

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