LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Coca-Cola Great Britain's Glaceau Vitaminwater is causing controversy by appearing to encourage people to take sick days from work when they are perfectly healthy.
A new promotional label on the bottle reads, "If you've had to use sick days because you've actually been sick, then you've been missing out." In a bid to promote the health-giving properties of Glaceau, it advises, "The trick is to stay perky and use sick days to just, not go in."
The label goes on to suggest that coughing too much the day before your sick day is a "big giveaway" and concludes, "Just stick with the ever-elusive '24-hour bug' -- no one can prove a thing."
The U.K.'s Forum of Private Business has spoken out against the ad. A spokesperson said, "It is unacceptable to encourage workers to throw 'sickies' in order to sell a soft drink. A company of the standing of Coca-Cola should know better." The group claims that employee absence costs the U.K. economy $18.5 billion a year in lost work days.
Coca-Cola responded in a statement: "This is clearly a tongue-in-cheek reference, very much in keeping with the humorous tone that Glaceau Vitaminwater has adopted with consumers right from its launch ... We are not seriously suggesting people should call in sick when they are not and on pack we state, 'taking a sickie is very, very naughty.' "
The Coca-Cola statement also said "This is just one of a series of fictional stories on the back of pack which help demonstrate the brand's personality. Each is related in some way to the product ingredients. In this particular case, it is the role that vitamin C and zinc can play in supporting the immune system ... Feedback since we launched in 2008 has shown that our consumers appreciate the irreverence of the brand as well as the refreshing taste of the drink."
Glaceau is handled in-house by a team at Coca-Cola. Last year, ads done in-house were banned for making misleading claims about nutritional benefits. One poster was headlined: "More muscles than brussels." Complaints about the ad challenged the implication that the drink's health benefits made it equivalent to eating brussels sprouts -- a popular U.K. winter vegetable. Coca-Cola claimed that the phrase was instead a reference to former action-movie star Jean Claude Van Damme, who is commonly labeled the "Muscles from Brussels," referring to his origins in the Belgian city.