Coca Cola truck pulled back 2018
Student/PR

The Coca-Cola truck shouldn’t be banned – and here’s why

We all (and when I say ‘we’, I largely mean ‘me’) love it. The Coca-Cola Christmas truck. Because nothing quite says ‘it’s the festive period!’ like a big red truck handing out free canned drinks, right?

Well, whether you’re a fan or not, it’s undeniable that Coca-Cola has enjoyed an entirely successful longstanding Christmas marketing campaign with the truck. It’s simple, but it’s always worked. From the highly anticipated advert that very seldom changes (as soon as you see that truck driving through the snowy hills on your TV, you sure well know its Christmas), to the actual events wherein the truck visits different (lucky) parts of the U.K. every year to hand out free Coca-Colas. It’s simple and predictable yes, which is usually the definition of an ineffective marketing campaign, but it’s always worked because it’s traditional and people like and look forward to it…

Until recently, that is.


May I steal your attention for a moment…

I’ve been nominated for a UK Blog Award for best PR blogger, and would love it if you could vote for me (that is if you like my blog and think I’m worthy of course!). Here’s how if you’d like to.

  • Click here.
  • Click on the categories (Public Relations, Marketing and Communications is mine) and view the entries.
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  • To see my entry information, click on the “i”.
  • And to vote for my entry (please please please), click on the red heart. 
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  • The link is a little iffy at the moment, so if it doesn’t work for you please give me a heads up.

Thank you so very much. Now back to the blog…


I mean, last year the tour did ignite significant opposition from sugar awareness groups, which actually urged Public Health England to issue a guidance warning of the impact of marketing campaigns like this. They pointed out concerns over tooth decay and obesity, and honed in on how simple campaigns like Coca-Cola’s can actually be detrimental to the obesity crisis amongst both adults and children. (Because yes, adults like myself can and do get just as excited about that red truck, okay).

But that was pretty much as far as the debacle went. The protests caused nothing much more than a slap on the wrist from P.H.A, and the Coca-Cola truck that we all know and love continued to do the rounds up and down the UK. Much to my pleasing.

This year, however, it’s not quite the same story.

They campaigned, and they won

The news unearthed today that this year, not only will 90% of products handed out by the Coca-Cola be zero sugar, but the event is actually due to be cut short this year amid protests. It’ll actually visit 14 fewer venues than last year, with big cities such as Liverpool and Carlise choosing not to participate.

Those who campaigned are of course revelling in their successes today, and who can blame them? If I put myself in the shoes of someone who has a serious issue with this campaign, I could see how this change to proceedings would be absolutely revolutionary. And to be fair, if I’d caused such an impactful change off the back of a letter (which is how it started) and a petition – I’d be celebrating too. Kudos to campaigners, this shows that if you truly believe in something you should always stand up for it, as even one voice can have an impact.

Me, though I believe that the truck is just a bit of harmless fun, and a great marketing campaign actually. It only comes once a year, and is around for no more than a day or two in each city. Therefore, a couple of Coke’s won’t kill you; and in my opinion, banishing a truck that provides them for free isn’t really going to tackle the obesity crisis. You can easily walk into a shop and buy a Coca-Cola if you want truly want one. Sure, having to pay for something you’d have been able to get for free (on top of the new sugar tax) is a deterrent to an extent. But if the mindset is there to make the purchase, then you’re probably still going to make it. Sure, the van encourages people to pick up a free can, but that’s hardly going to cause an epidemic and the real problem lies with people who are drinking these drinks every single day and in large amounts, not just at Christmas from the Coca-Cola truck.

And anyway, they have to market their products somehow, right? It’s Coca-Cola guys, not tobacco or drugs or something. These companies should still be able to advertise their products how they choose without worrying about who they could offend and who’s going to bite back.

Of course, though, that’s just my opinion. Despite itself, the Coca-Cola truck has still been pulled back as a result of protests and backlash. Which begs the question, has this campaign truly had its run?

Is it time to switch off the engines of our well-loved big red truck?

It pains me to say it, but I do actually believe that this could be the end of Coca-Cola’s iconic Christmas campaign. Or at least the beginning of the end.

In the world we now live in, which is ever more engaged and switched on in actively tackling global problems (such as obesity), there’s simply no place for campaigns that heavily promote products that are allegedly causing such issues. That’s not necessarily my opinion, but that’s the way the world seems to be now. These campaigns cause too much backlash, too much noise (and not the good kind) and therefore are increasingly becoming the definition of ‘more trouble than they’re worth’.

With the recent implementation of the sugar tax, and with increasing pressure from campaign groups to tackle unhealthy eating, I’d not be surprised to see a huge downfall in PR, marketing and advertising for all products with a high sugar content in the upcoming years, even months. We’ve already seen Coca-Cola rebrand its ‘Coke Zero’ to look pretty much exactly like Original Coke. (Yes, we all noticed it Coca-Cola – you’re not fooling anybody).

coca-cola-zero-sugar-gb-lead-598x336
From almost entirely black to almost entirely red. This new can looks surprisingly similar to another product. Can’t think what it is though…

And that’s largely down to, in my opinion, the fact that in our modern day you just can’t get away with marketing products that are unhealthy while there’s an obesity epidemic underway. Sugar is becoming as taboo as cigarettes, and the attitude surrounding fast food is going to follow closely in its footsteps soon I believe. (Jamie Oliver already seems to be firmly on the case unfortunately). All of which is great for the activists of course, but not so great for brands that just want to promote their product, as should be their right.

In my opinion, this country suffers from an obesity problem not because there’s a red truck that hands out free soft drinks once a year, but actually for other reasons far greater than this. I think attention should be focused on larger issues, such as the costly expense of healthy food or the attitude of normalising severely obese bodies, and less so on a Christmas tradition that is known and loved across the nation.

Let brands market their products, and focus efforts and energies on more pressing issues instead. Because we all know that these products are fine in moderation, and therefore it’s not necessarily the promotion of them that’s the issue – it’s the attitude of those that believe they belong in everyday life as opposed to an occasional treat. And that’s something that won’t be changed by cutting the truck’s trip short.

Those are my honest and raw opinions (I promised to never sugar coat my feelings on this blog, and I never will), but I’d welcome yours. Do you think that campaigns like the Coca-Cola truck have a place in the modern day? And what do you think of the truck slashing its UK visits this year – sensible or ludicrous?

Let me know in the comments below.

May I steal your attention for a moment more…

I mentioned it above, but if you were too busy reading my blog post, then here it is again. I’ve been nominated for a UK Blog Award for best PR blogger, and would love it if you could vote for me (that is if you like my blog and think I’m worthy of course!). Here’s how if you’d like to.

  • Click here.
  • Click on the categories (Public Relations, Marketing and Communications is mine) and view the entries.
  • To find my website, click on the globe.
  • To see my entry information, click on the “i”.
  • And to vote for my entry (please please please), click on the red heart. 
  • The link is a little iffy at the moment, so if it doesn’t work for you please give me a heads up.

And while you’re here, please subscribe to my blog by heading back to my homepage and entering your email on the right-hand side of the page.

PR and lifestyle blogger jessica pardoe

3 thoughts on “The Coca-Cola truck shouldn’t be banned – and here’s why”

  1. My problem with this is immense and largely political. But it is a huge public health issue and as we’ve seen in the past, you can’t control people’s bad habits but you can regulate a corporate presence. Tobacco used professional endorsements from doctors, dentists and other health professionals until the mid-60’s in an effort to offset the link between smoking and ‘certain diseases’. Now you don’t see smoking ads on tv or in magazines and newspapers.

    I can see soft drinks going the same way. Sure adults will buy a Coke whenever they want, but that’s the crux isn’t it: Isn’t making you want a Coke exactly what this campaign is setting out to do? Couple it with the innate desire humans have for sugar and you’ve got a winning campaign. But the winners aren’t consumers.
    As consumers we battle with a series of decisions day in day out and, more often than not, the cheapest and most immediately gratifying options win.

    Then there’s the further manipulation employed by Coca Cola as they invest millions into forging this strong emotional bond in people, marrying ‘Coke’ and ‘Christmas’ as if that’s the natural order of things. You can see people vehemently defending traditions like this, despite rationally knowing they don’t actually benefit anyone.

    But I’ll leave it at this: the tobacco industry fought tooth and nail to separate instances of lung cancer and smoking. They lost.

    Like

    1. Tom, thanks so much for your comment and I can’t agree more with the comments on the tobacco industry. I think you’re right in the sense that Coca-Cola are fighting a losing battle, we’ve already seen it with the sugar tax and the greater sell-in of Coke Zero. But, at the same time, it’s more about consumer habits than the product itself. We all know how awful cigarettes are for you – one Coke wont kill you.

      At the end of the day fat cats like Coke don’t really care about the wellbeing of their consumers, their end goal is the money in their pockets and therefore they’re going to carry on marketing until they’ve bled it dry. Only time will tell how long they can continue this way before campaign groups, and higher powers such as the government take further action. Which brings me back to the question: is there any place for marketing campaigns like this in 2018? I’m starting to think no, there isn’t…

      Thanks again for your views – always love to hear em 🙂

      Like

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