Ad industry rejects ‘joyless’ complaints on Coca-Cola’s Christmas campaign

Coca-Cola found itself in hot water after being criticised by health professionals for “promoting an unhealthy lifestyle” among children with its Christmas truck tour.

Coca-Cola truck

Advertising body ISBA has criticised claims by health professionals that Coca-Cola’s Christmas truck tour should be banned for promoting unhealthy living to children.

As part of its 2016 Christmas campaign, the fizzy drinks brand sent its infamous red truck across 44 locations in the UK to hand out free bottles of Coca-Cola.

In an open letter, five public health directors and members of the Faculty of Public Health said they were “disappointed and concerned” that the brand used the holiday period to promote sugar.

“We can celebrate without allowing Coca-Cola to hijack Christmas by bringing false gifts of bad teeth and weight problems to our children,” it said.

The letter continued: “Should this form of advertising and marketing be banned, given the growing evidence of the effect that marketing of unhealthy food and drink has on children? We believe it should and will continue to push for national action from organisations such as Public Health England to stop similar campaigns next Christmas.”

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, says the campaign was not “in the spirit” of helping families cut down on unhealthy food and drink.

“Big name brands promoting their most sugar-laden products to children like this is simply not in the spirit of helping families make healthy choices and wider efforts to combat childhood obesity. Local authorities need to reflect on whether celebrating sugary drinks in this way during Christmas or at any major event is in the best interest of the health of local children and families,” he says.

This is a sad and joyless response from a group who ought to be working with businesses to help change people’s lifestyles.

Ian Twinn, ISBA

But advertising body ISBA defended the brand, arguing Coca-Cola is a “responsible” advertiser and that health professionals should be working with businesses to change consumers’ lifestyles.

“This is a sad and joyless response from a group who ought to be working with businesses to help change people’s lifestyles. Coca-Cola is already [addressing the issue] through its low-sugar ranges. What will help fight unhealthy lifestyles is good parenting, being active and having a balanced diet,” says Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs.

Coca-Cola responded to the criticism by claiming it operates the tour “in line with its responsible marketing policy” and does not provide drinks to under 12s unless their parent or guardian is present and happy for the brand to do so.

READ MORE: Coca-Cola and Britvic hit back at sugar tax for ‘singling out soft drinks’

Pointing to government data, the brand claims sugar intake from soft drinks by both children and teenagers continues to decline, and consumption of full sugar soft drinks in general has fallen by 44% since 2004.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Great Britain explains: “We will continue to take actions to help people to reduce the sugar they consume from our range of drinks, but the evidence suggests the current focus on sugar and soft drinks alone will not address the problem.”

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