Full Throttle Spot Viewed as Insult to Major Energy Drink Demographic

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CHICAGO ( -- The publicity effort for Coca-Cola Co.’s Full Throttle Super Bowl ad is backfiring before the ad has even aired.
Coca-Cola's Full Throttle ad takes 'every negative stereotype about the trucking industry and uses it to sell a product,' said a top official at the American Trucking Association.
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Monster truck ad
Coke may think the monster truck-cum-pied piper in its Full Throttle spot plays the hero, but America’s truckers are calling it reckless and have begun a letter-writing campaign to Coke demanding the ad be changed or dropped.

The spot was created by the Mother agency of New York.

“Every year somebody in Madison Avenue gets lazy and does the old scary truck cliche. This year it was Coca-Cola,” said Mike Russell, VP-public affairs for the American Trucking Association. He cited a blaring air horn, a rearview mirror filled with a Peterbilt grill, a larger truck tailgating and forcing a smaller truck -- adorned with rival Red Bull -- off the main road and a driver yelling "Yahoo!” as the truck drives by.

3 million drivers
“It’s taking every negative stereotype about the trucking industry and using it to sell a product,” continued Mr. Russell. “It totally ignores the trucking industry and the 3 million drivers who do their job safely every day. It’s the same as putting billboards on the sides of our truck and saying ‘Coke makes you ill. Drink Pepsi.’”

Since truckers have helped make energy drinks the hottest segment of the non-alcoholic beverage industry, the pushback is serious. Still, Mr. Russell doesn’t foresee a trucker boycott -- at least for now. However, the truckers want to see the “scary trucker” scenes changed. Mr. Russell said he contacted Coke last week about the spot but got a “lukewarm” response as Coke claimed the truck was a hero and a pied piper.

“It’s more of a demolition derby with a truck leading it,” he added. “I fail to see how this sells Full Throttle.”

CEO Neville Isdell
Among the executives contacted were Coke Chairman-CEO Neville Isdell and Phil Humann, president of SunTrust Bank, Coke’s longtime banking partner. (The chairman of the Coca-Cola board's executive committee is Jimmy Williams, the former chairman-CEO of SunTrust Banks.)

In one letter, a trucking company wrote: “Any one of the few times that one of our trucks has been in a minor accident, we have been hit with spurious litigation. Now, your company is apparently going to air an ad showing a ‘big truck’ forcing a small passenger vehicle off the road to kick off the 2006 Full Throttle campaign. This will leave quite an imprint on the minds of millions. We do not believe that this is how you really want to portray your trucks, your truck drivers, or your company’s image. (Is it?)”

Letter to Mary Minnick
Another letter from Richard O. Harrell III, president of R.O. Harrell, addressed to Mary Minnick, Coke’s president of strategy, marketing and innovation, said earlier ads from and Shell Oil had tried ads using “dangerous trucks” and later pulled those ads and apologized to the trucking industry.

The letter then went on to say, “Coca-Cola is the recipient of unfair worldwide attacks about various labor and distribution practices. Surely, you do not want to be involved with making false, unfair, and unfounded attacks on another industry. In 2004, the trucking industry's safety record was the best since figures have been compiled. As a Coca-Cola shareholder from a family owning Coke stock for over 70 years, I know that ads like this one are definitely beneath your normal standard of conduct. If you have any doubt about the effect of this ad, ask yourself, ‘If I drove a truck every day, how would I feel if a major company showed my profession acting irresponsibly and criminally?’ And then, ask yourself, if you were a professional truck driver delivering Coke products, how you would feel. Yes, every single Coke and Coke product arrives by truck.”

Coca-Cola didn’t return calls about the matter.

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