Coca-Cola is running a stealth advertising campaign.
Stealth? Yes, it's a nationwide product promotion that's being run below the public radar! Why would a corporation as ad-dependent as Coke spend big bucks on advertising that it doesn't want consumers to notice? Shhhh, because the campaign is a surreptitious ploy to enlist restaurants in a marketing conspiracy that targets you, your children and — of course — your wallet.
Coke calls its covert gambit "Cap the Tap," urging restaurateurs to stop offering plain old tap water to customers: "Every time your business fills a cup or glass with tap water, it pours potential profits down the drain." Cap the Tap can put a stop to that, Coke says, "by teaching (your) crew members or waitstaff suggestive selling techniques to convert requests for tap water into orders for revenue-generating beverages."
The program provides a guide for restaurant managers who agree to direct Coke's sneak attack on customers. It also supplies a handy backroom poster to remind waitstaff "when and how to suggestively sell beverages," plus a participant's guide to put "suggestive selling" foremost in mind as staff confronts the enemy ... uh, I mean customers. Tactics include outflanking those recalcitrant customers who insist on water. Just switch the sales pitch to bottled water — remember, Coca-Cola also owns Dasani, one of the top-selling brands of bottled water in the United States.
Early in its Cap the Tap scheme, the beverage behemoth offered two incentive programs for waitstaff: "Suggest More and Score" and "Get Your Fill." Both were competitions meant to spur servers to push more Coke on American restaurant-goers.
To add a splash of bitter irony to this campaign, Coke's CEO recently declared that "obesity is today's most challenging health issue," adding piously that solving it requires "all of us working together and doing our part." Really, by selling more Coke? That's proof that hypocrisy is now the official rocket fuel of corporate profits.
For even more proof, check out the Beverage Institute for Health & Wellness. Sounds like a spa in Aspen where you might enjoy a cleansing regimen of organic Aloe vera smoothies and biodynamic wine, doesn't it? But, no, it's a hokey "science" front owned and run by Coca-Cola. The world's largest beverage purveyor wants you to be assured that none of its sugary, empty-calorie or artificially sweetened concoctions are a cause of obesity. Hey, Coke's instituters shout, three or more colas a day are simply part of an integrated, healthy diet — for children and adults alike!
"There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity," a top Coke executive snapped. Uh, actually, nutritionists disagree, pointing to all the empty calories in Coke's syrupy concoctions. The exec had a simple response to that: "We don't believe in empty calories."
Oh, well, then — OK. But, in the off chance that you might want a more independent scientific source, try the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, billed as the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. But wait. While the academy is not owned by Coke, it does lease out its integrity to the cola giant. Coca-Cola is listed on the academy's website as a generous sponsor and "partner" in its scientific work.
In fact, the academy certifies Coke's Beverage Institute for Health & Wellness as an official provider of "continuing education" for registered dieticians. How neat — a corporation that profiteers by peddling nutritionally worthless and health-endangering products finances the academic outfit that's most responsible for educating Americans about healthy foods. And that academy, in turn, embraces the corporate fiction that sugary drinks pose no health problems.
That's not irony; it's shameful corruption. The greatest obesity crisis in America is not the cola itself, but the fatheaded ethics of single-minded corporate profit-seekers and their apologists.
— Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JimHightower, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.