When advocates called for an alcohol ad ban decades ago, former
Anheuser-Busch Chairman August Busch III "deftly handled the
criticism from [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] by throwing a bunch
of money behind the effort to curtail drunk driving," according to
the book "Dethroning the King." And since A-B first put the "Know
When to Say When" campaign on network TV in 1985, it has poured
more than $930 million into responsibility campaigns. Last year, it
launched NationOfResponsibleDrinkers.com, where more than 20,000
adults have taken a pledge "to drink responsibly."
Though the American Beverage Association has run ads with the
tagline, "More choices. Fewer calories," having the nation's
biggest beverage company join the conversation turned heads.
Coca-Cola debuted TV
ads last week touting a calories in, calories out message, as well
as its record of marketing low- and no-calorie beverage
"The beer industry urges consumers to drink responsibly, as too
much alcohol isn't healthy," said John Sicher, editor and publisher
of Beverage Digest. "Similarly, too many calories, with a sedentary
lifestyle, isn't healthy, and I think Coke is now starting to make
that point in their ads, as has the industry."
Of course, the alcohol industry is regulated, and the soda
industry is not. However, Coke's campaign comes as pressure on the
industry ramps up. "I think they're imagining "what if,'" said
Grace Leong, managing partner at Hunter Public
While critics pummeled the ads as misleading, consumers seem to
have embraced them. According to AceMetrix, the "Coming Together"
ad has been among the top five most-effective spots in the past 90
days, in addition to being 15% more effective than the average
corporate branding ad and 24% more effective than the average soda
The lesson for soda: Don't be defiant. "Be in the game from the
beginning," said Dan Tearno, former chief corporate relations
officer at Heineken USA. "If you are not at the table, you are
probably on the menu."