By Simon Haslam
The Salvos are helping to bring a truckload of Coke to regional Australia for Christmas, saying that ‘big events’ like this, which normally happen just in main cities, will help overcome feelings of ‘isolation’ in smaller communities.
The Salvation Army has partnered with Coke for a tour of New South Wales and Queensland in the Christmas Coke Truck. Overseas in the UK, health experts have objected to the way free sugary drinks are handed out from the truck, saying it should be banned.
Parent advocacy group Parents’ Voice is angered by Coca-Cola’s decision to bring its Christmas Truck to Australian shores, and has launched an online petition. (https://www.change.org/p/coca-cola-stop-the-coca-cola-christmas-truck). They claim the truck is ‘essentially a giant mobile billboard marketing unhealthy products to vulnerable communities’.
Parents’ Voice say they are ‘particularly disappointed by Coca-Cola’s decision to visit Tamworth as, like much of regional Australia, Tamworth has high levels of overweight and obesity with 73.9 per cent of the adults in the region overweight or obese’.
Campaigns manager Alice Pryor pointed out that the partnership with the Salvation Army is about positioning for Coke:
‘It’s well known that Coke is a harmful product packed with sugar. With one in four Australian kids overweight or obese, it’s hard to comprehend they’re deliberately targeting children in this at-risk community. Their decision to partner with The Salvation Army is not out of the goodness of their corporate hearts, it’s about disguising their marketing techniques.’
Parents’ Voice member Rachel Clemons from Sydney is equally concerned about the impact the truck will have on the communities in question: ‘It’s outrageous that Coke is trying to make their brand synonymous with Christmas. The last thing children need at this special family-focused time of year is to be manipulated by in-your-face marketing of sugary drinks.’
One healthy-looking Sydney celebrity who presumably doesn’t mind a bit of Coke is Samantha Jade. The 30-year-old starlet seemed positively excited when she was pictured holding a Coke, in the cabin of the truck, which is covered in flashing lights, in the news.com.au 13 November coverage of the truck’s departure.
Annita Katee on the same day in Daily Mail Australia reported that [sic] ‘a peak of the stunner’s toned midriff was on display. The midi-length skirt also donned a slit which gave the ensemble an added edge’.
The Coke Christmas Truck has built up momentum in the UK, but public health experts there say the marketing strategy is not a new one. ‘The path of associating unhealthy products with health, well-being and healthy lifestyles is one that has been well trodden down the years by the tobacco industry,’ say UK health experts Robin Ireland and John Acton, writing in the BMJ, a British medical journal.
‘At Christmas, Coca-Cola’s marketing goes into overdrive as newspapers across the country regurgitate press releases for its Christmas Truck tour, with advertorials promoting the truck as a Christmas tradition,’ the public health experts wrote.
Indeed, the Salvation Army’s NSW and Queensland Communications and Fundraising director Leigh Cleave told News Corp Australia that she hoped the inaugural tour would lead to a ‘new tradition of gift giving’. The 13 November article quoted her as saying that ‘Having the truck come to [regional communities] is a way of taking a bit of the sparkle of Christmas to them,’ and continued, quoting a ‘Coke spokesman’ as saying ‘it could be the start of something big, just like it is in the Northern Hemisphere’.
Alice Pryor says the sophisticated marketing effectively targets the vulnerable and children.
‘In the UK because of the number of visitors the Christmas Coke Truck gets, the people who attend the truck become unwitting ambassadors for the product. They’re not necessarily cognisant of that. From a public health perspective, it’s very hard to minimise the impact that seeming endorsement has on vulnerable communities and particularly children. There is a body of research surrounding food marketing on children; children build brand affinity when they associate a product with good feelings.’
‘The association of Christmas and good cheer with Coke is a very sophisticated marketing technique and I don’t think people are really aware of that. Coke decided that they were bringing the truck, then they’ve tried to work out how to make their marketing palatable to the public, for example by partnering with the Salvation Army.’
*Parents Voice is funded by the Cancer Council, the YMCA and Diabetes Victoria and VicHealth to improve nutrition and physical activity in kids.