Commercial Advertisement … The Vitaminwater Advertising Fiasco

Seth Godin once said: You can’t fool people all the time, not even most of the time. And people, once unfooled, talk about the commercial advertisement experience. Have you been unfooled by Vitaminwater? How about with the Vitaminwater advertising fiasco? We have been followers and fans of the way Coca Cola runs its business. Even thought of them as a very socially responsible business. Now we are not so sure. How about you?

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Here is the thing that has us rethinking our position. Coca-Cola is being sued by a non-profit public interest group, on the grounds that the company’s vitaminwater products make unwarranted health claims. In this article we will give you the background to this 6 year old legal issue and what has happened recently.


Related: Brilliant Advertisements to Rise Above the Noise


The simple fact is that the product is basically sugar-water, to which about a penny’s worth of synthetic vitamins have been added. And the amount of sugar is not trivial. A bottle of vitaminwater contains 33 grams of sugar, making it more akin to a soft drink than to a healthy beverage. We don’t like that, but we certainly can live with it.


Doesn’t make Coca-Cola any less socially responsible in our minds. And calling the product Vitaminwater, while moving closer to the ethical, legal line, is OK in our minds.

Check out our thoughts on creative marketing.


This wasn’t the first time a law suit was filed on this issue. It was first filed in 2009 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and a group of Vitaminwater customers in New York and California. It alleged that Coca-Cola took part in deceptive labeling and marketing for the soft drink, which included claims that the drink could reduce rise for eye disease, promote healthy joints and support optimal immune function.


Coke has chosen to endure multiple public slaps on the wrist because its marketing has succeeded in insulating Vitaminwater from the negative health aura that’s engulfed soda and other forms of sugar water. The beverage industry’s school beverage guidelines, for instance, allow for sales of Vitaminwater in high schools because they have less sugar than soda. By comparison, a 20 ounce bottle of Coke contains 65 grams of sugar, or 15 teaspoons.


So where does consumer protection law stand on this issue?


commercial advertisement examples
Commercial advertisement examples.

The rules

Advertising must be:


Have evidence to back up their claims

Not be unfair


commercial advertisement
Commercial advertisement … A deceptive ad?

What makes a deceptive ad?

It is ruled deceptive if it contains information that:

Is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances

Is material to a consumer’s decision to buy or use the product?


Certainly looks like the series of Vitaminwater ads could be ruled deceptive, doesn’t it?


So what is Coca-Cola’s response to this lawsuit?

This part is the most difficult to swallow. They are defending their advertising and not backing down or changing their ads. Their argument? In surprising logic, lawyers for Coca-Cola are defending the product by asserting that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.


Truly amazing. This pushes them over the socially responsibility line in our minds. No question in our minds.


Does this mean that you’d have to be an unreasonable person to think that a product named “vitaminwater,” a product that has been heavily and aggressively marketed as a healthy beverage, actually had health benefits?


And most important, does it mean that it’s okay for a corporation to lie about its products, as long as they can then turn around and claim that no one actually believes their lies?


Forced to defend themselves in court, they are acknowledging that vitaminwater isn’t a healthy product. But they are arguing that advertising it as such isn’t false advertising, because no could possibly believe such a ridiculous claim.


Double amazing.


Vitaminwater commercial advertisement examples … the lawsuit resolution

Coca-Cola-owned Vitaminwater has agreed to make certain labeling changes as part of a legal settlement with a health group that has criticized the brand’s marketing practices.


The settlement agreement, which has been filed in a federal court in New York, lays out ten statements that Vitaminwater cannot use in its marketing or labeling.


The banned statements include “vitamins + water = what’s in your hand,” “this combination of zinc and fortifying vitamins can . . . keep you healthy as a horse” and “specially formulated to support optimal metabolic function with antioxidants that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases and vitamins necessary for the generation and utilization of energy from food.”


A CSPI spokesman said Coca-Cola began removing many of the statements at issue after the group filed its lawsuit, but that the deal ensures those changes will be permanent.


A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said the company was pleased to reach a resolution. “Although we remain confident in our legal position, it simply made no sense to continue this costly legal battle,” she said.


The settlement also forces the brand to add the words “with sweeteners” on two parts of the label near the brand’s name. According to CSPI, Vitaminwater has 32 grams of sugar, equaling about eight teaspoons.


Coca-Cola words on social responsibility

Here is what the Coca-Cola Enterprise has to say about their social responsibility vision and commitment:


Energy conservation/climate change – reduce the overall carbon footprint of our business operations by 15% by 2020, as compared to 2007 baseline.


Sustainable packaging/recycling – reduce the impact of our packaging; maximize our use of renewable, reusable, and recyclable resources to recover the equivalent of 100 percent of our packaging.


Water stewardship – establish a water sustainable operation in which we minimize our water use and have water neutral impact on the local communities in which we operate. We’ll safely return the amount of water equivalent to that used in our beverages and their production to these communities and their environment.


Product portfolio/wellbeing – provide refreshing beverages for every lifestyle and occasion, while helping consumers make informed beverage choices.


Diverse and inclusive culture – create a culture where diversity is valued, every employee is a respected member of the team, and our workforce is a reflection of the communities in which we operate.


Seems like good words to live by, doesn’t it? What we would expect from a solid, socially responsible business.


The bottom line


Helping consumers make informed choices? Seems like a big discrepancy versus their Vitaminwater advertising doesn’t it?


So what good are a socially responsible vision and commitments if they are not followed?


The worst case of deceptive advertising out there? Absolutely not. But we would expect more honesty and social responsibility from Coca-Cola. Don’t you agree?


They eventually got to the right answers, but why and how did it take them 6 years? That answer would be a great story, wouldn’t it?


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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.


More reading on advertising from Digital Spark Marketing’s Library:

 A How-To Guidebook for Creating Winning Advertising

Brillinat Advertisements to Rise Above the Noise

The State Farm ‘Jake’ Commercial … No Art of Persuasion


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Commercial Advertisement … The Vitaminwater Advertising Fiasco