Coca-Cola and the Polar Bears

- December 1st, 2011

polar bear

Unless you’ve been lost in the Arctic barrens for the past month, you’ve probably heard the following sentences over and over already (and I quote):

“Coca-Cola is working with World Wildlife Fund  to support the Arctic home of the polar bear. As a symbol of our commitment, this holiday we’re turning our red cans white and contributing $2 million over five years to WWF polar bear conservation efforts. We’ll also match donations made at iCoke.ca.”

That’s taken from the Coke ad that’s been running on Canadian TV and movie screens since the beginning of November. It’s been very hard to miss.

The ad elicits several responses:

1. That’s nice. Saving polar bears is a “good thing” and people who try to do good things are generally “good people.”

2. Two million dollars over five years is $400,000 a year. What a measly piece of chump change (relatively speaking) for one of the world’s largest corporations to be tooting its own horn over — in an ad blitz that will undoubtedly cost many, many multiples of $400,000 by the time Coke’s Arctic Home campaign ends in February.

3. A combination of 1. and 2. (which is my response.)

ArcticHome_960x300

(And just how the heck does Coke get away with trademarking “Arctic Home™?” If anyone actually has the right to hold that trademark, shouldn’t it be the government of Canada or the Inuit people, maybe even the polar bears themselves — or perhaps a Russian or American submarine? Certainly not The Coca-Cola Company ® [registered].)

I’ve been battered silly by that ad for a month; savaged in the eyeballs by a cute, cuddly, ferocious, carnivorous polar bear family; cognitively and viscerally mauled to the point that I’ve decided a few pertinent things need saying.

I’ve already said the most pertinent thing, but I’ll repeat myself (in other words) now:

If The Coca-Cola Company truly believes that giving the WWF money to carry out its Arctic agenda is a good, important and righteous thing to do, shouldn’t Coke be giving WWF a heck of A LOT MORE MONEY THAN $400,000 A YEAR?

WWF logo

After all, Coke even went to all the trouble of changing the colour of its cans and bottle caps from red to white (the first time the red can had been colour-shifted, I’m told, although I have this nagging thought at the back of my head that there have been prior variables on the red can).

UPDATE: Coke has just announced that — due to an overwhelmingly negative public reaction — it will stop shipping the white cans by the end of this week and return to red cans as of next week.  I guess Coke decided “Better red than dead.” And I guess we won’t be seeing that TV ad for a while — until they change the “turning our red cans white” bit.

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Coke even bragged in a press release that the change entails 1.4 BILLION CANS for just the four-month period of this season’s campaign. That’s about 70,000 cans for each polar bear on earth (using the current accepted low-end estimate of 20,000 polar bears with the high-end estimate being 25,000).

To put it another way, the amount of aluminum Coke will use to make those 1.4 billion cans (which weigh, I’m told, half an ounce each empty) comes out to  roughly 21,000 tons. That’s ONE TON OF ALUMINUM for each and every polar bear on earth.

Another thing you need to know is that this whole Arctic Home promotion is going on in both the United States and Canada, even though the ads we see here are specifically Canada-directed. Even when I thought it was strictly a Canadian campaign, I thought Coke was being cheap with its $2 million donation. When I know it’s $2 million for both the Canadian and U.S. markets (Coca-Cola UK’s involved too and the whole world peripherally), I’m astounded — and not in a good way.

The Coca-Cola Company

∞ Coca-Cola is one of the most valuable brands in the world, right up there with McDonald’s, Microsoft, Google and Apple. Earlier this year the consumer data-crunching company Brandz calculated its total corporate worth at about $74 billion — only half the value of #1 Apple, mind you, but worth about as much as Apple was worth just a year earlier. Do you think Apple would run a major ad campaign based on a measly $2 million charitable donation? Oh, that’s right, Apple doesn’t “do” charity.

∞ The Coca-Cola Company’s worldwide revenue for 2011 is projected to be in the $50 billion range. That’s a big step up from Coke’s 2010 revenue of about $35 billion. The company’s had a good year with major expansion in Russia and Asia, plus it’s bought a bunch of new international brands that have increased its earning base.

∞ Coca-Cola is sold in more than 200 countries around the world. Its $50 billion revenue this year makes it larger than the national economies of 55% of those countries where its sold.

∞ The Coca-Cola Company says it now sells roughly 1.7 billion servings of its various beverages each day. That adds up to 620,500,000,000 servings of Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Minute Maid, Powerade, Canada Dry, Dasani, Inca Kola, Goombay Punch, Love Body and about 480 other Coca-Cola-owned drink brands over the course of a year.

∞ The Coca-Cola Company made a profit of just under $12 billion in 2010.  It should do even better this year.

∞ Coke’s advertising budget was just under $3 billion in 2010. It should be even bigger this year.

∞ In 2010, Coke spent more on advertising than Microsoft ($1.6 billion) and Apple ($691 million) combined.

∞ Coke has bought a hefty handful of 30-second ad spots on the 2012 Super Bowl telecast — each costing $3.5 million (up from $3 million a pop on last year’s Super Bowl telecast). Here’s a look at just one of the commercials Coke made especially for the 2011 Super Bowl: This one-minute spot cost Coke $6 million to air just one time. That doesn’t include what Coke paid to make the commercial. You tell me if you think the production budget for this computer-animated mini-epic was more or less than the $400,000 Coke is contributing to save the polar bears in 2012.

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And the white cans (Easy come, easy go — R.I.P.) are/were just the tip of the promotional iceberg.

There are the bottles as well but — the thing that staggers me the most — there are also all those plastic and paper cups in fast-food joints like Subway and convenience stores like 7-Eleven around the continent.

How many cups? “Tens of BILLIONS.”

coca-cola-7-eleven-qr-code

That’s according to Mike Wehrs, president of ScanBuy, a tech company working with Coke on the “QR code” printed on each and every one of those “tens of billions” of disposable cups.

You know QR codes —  short for “Quick Response” codes. They’re the matrix-y square graphic devices on posters, ads and products that you can snap a pic of on your smart phone to automatically load up a website full of other information and/or advertising related to the product, maybe even a discount coupon.

Coke’s “Arctic Home” QR code (sorry BlackBerry and Android users, it only works on iPhones and iPads — and maybe not even them if you have too much condensation on your cup) links you up to a Facebook page from which you can throw snowballs at friends, play some kind of game building a bigger snowball to win prizes and, oh yeah, make a contribution of your own to the WWF polar bear initiative.

And, yes, The Coca-Cola Company will match your personal contribution dollar-for-dollar — up to $1 million (in total contributions, not per person, I might add).  So yes, Coke is committed to a guaranteed donation to WWF of $2 million (over five years, don’t forget) but will also add UP TO $1 MILLION MORE of its own money plus facilitate the contribution of UP TO $1 MILLION MORE from private contributors.

Sorry, that’s better but still not good enough. It just isn’t enough for a company as big as Coca-Cola. And it definitely isn’t enough for an advertising campaign as expensive, as pervasive and as enamoured of its own virtue as this one is.

Don’t forget the vast sums of money Coca-Cola is spending to promote this campaign — and its skimpy $400,000-a-year contribution.

The November-February period is bigger than summer for Coke. November-February includes U.S. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Super Bowl and the Academy Awards — the biggest advertising quarter of the year for a company like Coca-Cola (although it’s actually the last half of 4Q 2011 and the first half of 1Q 2012 for Coke).

Let’s get this straight: I’m NOT criticizing Coke for contributing to WWF polar bear conservation efforts (although I’m more than a little cynical about the WWF as a self-promotional, self-aggrandizing organization and I resent their attempts — abetted by the Coke advertising campaign — to portray themselves as lead benefactors and saviours of the polar bear).

No, I’m criticizing Coke for NOT contributing ENOUGH to the WWF if that’s what they really believe will save polar bears. And saving polar bears is what this whole campaign is about, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

polar-bear

If it is, The Coca-Cola Company should put its money where its mouth is.

coca-cola-french-polar-bear-1922

After all, Coke has been using polar bears to advertise its product since 1922 (mind you, that was in France … but it still counts).

And Coca-Cola’s computer-animated polar bear, introduced in the early 1990s, was just added to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame in October.

The-Coke-Polar-Bear-coke-57341_1024_774

I firmly believe that every company that engages in this kind of advocacy advertising should be obligated to contribute as much to the target organization, charity or cause as the company spends on its related advertising campaign.

If that was the case, Coke would be giving a heck of a lot more to the World Wildlife Fund than $2 million or $3 million or $4 million.

Just based on what I’ve seen so far — start the counter, please — you’d be looking at $5 million, $6 million, $7 million — keep the counter rolling while I catch my breath — $8 million, $9 million — and we’re not even into the runup to the Super Bowl and Academy Awards yet.

If Coke won’t link their contributions dollar-for-dollar to what they’re spending on the Arctic Home advertising campaign, here’s a lesser option that would still make them Coke Heroes instead of Coke Zeroes in my book:

Cancel ONE 30-SECOND COCA-COLA COMMERCIAL SPOT on the Super Bowl XLVI telecast Feb. 5, 2012 and use that money to save polar bears.

The half-minute spots on Super Bowl XLVI are going for $3.5 million a pop and they’re all sold out. The Coca-Cola Company has a bunch of those spots — I mean a bunch, just count ‘em during the Super Bowl telecast (although they double up some of them for one-minute extravaganza commercials) — so I’m sure they would still get their message across just fine with one less 30-second spot.

But that 30 seconds could save 100 polar bears in 2012.

And if they held back on just one 30-second ad on the following Super Bowl telecast, they could save another 100 polar bears in 2013.

If they did that for the five-year span of their current commitment to the WWF, THE COCA-COLA COMPANY COULD SAVE 500 POLAR BEARS.

Not a bad bang for the buck, eh?

And it wouldn’t even have to involve the World Wildlife Fund (which I’m sure WWF is glad to hear). But it would save a lot more polar bears than the WWF will in that same five-year period.

Polar_Bear

In a day or two I’ll tell you exactly how The Coca-Cola Company can save 100 polar bears a year by cancelling one 30-second Super Bowl TV commercial each year.


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10 comments

  1. Dave Moran says:

    What excites us at Coca-Cola about this campaign is not just the opportunity to contribute funding, but the opportunity to use our brand to raise awareness about an important cause. It’s our hope that our consumers will be inspired by the Arctic Home initiative and join us in creating a movement. Yes we are giving the WWF $2 million for conservation work in the Arctic but we are also asking the public to join the campaign and donate as well. We will match donations (up to $1 million USD) from consumers who donate towards the cause in Canada and the US. Canadians can make a donation at http://www.icoke.ca. All donations will go to WWF’s efforts to protect the polar bear’s Arctic home.

  2. James says:

    The root of the polar bears’ problem is environmental change caused by industrialization. The best way to reduce our impact on the environment isn’t to drink white cans of coca-cola, it’s to stop drinking the stuff completely. It’s just extremely well marketed liquid candy.

    Just think for a second about the vast amount of energy require to mine the metal for 1,400,000,000 cans, smelt it, press the cans, paint them white, fill them with carbonated caramel water and then deliver them to shops by diesel truck. And once they arrive in the shop, the sit in refrigerated coca-cola branded coolers awaiting purchase — in the middle of a sub-zero Canadian winter.

    It boggles the mind.

  3. Brad says:

    After seeing the commercials and cans, I Googled “Coca cola polar bear donation small” and came across this article. I am relieved to see I’m not the only one who feels annoyed and upset with the ad campaign and their pitiful donation. Coca-cola should be ashamed of themselves trying sell extra cases of Coke like this.

    I’ve seen a FAMILY in Calgary donate $20M in a single payment to a local University. Surely a corporation like Coca-Cola can do better than $2 or 3 million over 5 YEARS. What a joke.

  4. Alexis P says:

    I have always loved that Coca-Cola has the polar bear as their symbol and although I hardly drink Coke at all, I enjoy their loveable icon. To know that they’re only donating $2 million over 5 years is outrageous – oh, and of course up to the other $1 million matched from donations. It seems to me that they should be donating a percentage of each of their profit continuously to save the polar bears as they have been using the cute cuddly images for almost a century.

    Of course, this type of campaigning does raise awareness to the polar bear cause and the fact that they are going extinct due to environmental issues – as Dave Moran outlines in his comment. Yet, the baseline funding does not add up to what Coca-Cola should be willing, and very able, to put forward. Especially with all the other brand name drinks they do own. I myself am a lover of Dasani water.

    The fact that Coca-Cola spent so much money on the advertising for the “red-to-white” cups and bottles is also extremely ridiculous since they pulled back that part of the campaign. To already have spent the amount of money that should be going to the polar bears in the first place is basically wasting needless effort.

    The polar bears don’t care where the money and awareness comes from, all they care about it the fact that they survive. I feel like that needs to be the mindset that Coca-Cola takes on with this campaign for 2012 and beyond. Hopefully they will see the errors of their ways and contribute more money to the cause. If not, at least some money is going towards it. But, we all know that it is not enough.

  5. Lorne says:

    Another marketing PR-BS campaign. “We want you to think that were doing something nice, so that you think when you buy our product you’re helping. You’re not. What we are giving is a drop in the bucket compared to what we’re spending to tell you what we’re giving”. What a load of crap.

  6. Grant says:

    Polar bears have survived Arctic periods of glaciation and tropical warmth, I don’t think they need the ‘help’ of self-serving organizations like WWF and Coca-Cola.

  7. Blaine says:

    being a Coke fan for almost 50 years I am truly disappointed with their feeble attempt at social responsibility. They will spend millions to promote a $2 million donation. So please support Pepsi as at least they are not as ignorant to try something like this …yet.

  8. Chris says:

    Sorry Dave Moran but it looks like Coca-Cola is the only one excited about this campaign. I agree 110% with this article. Considering the scale that Coca-Cola operates at I think alot of people expected alot better.

  9. Nathan says:

    I’m glad to read that I am not the only one who felt this way about the commercial. I will be now boycotting coca-cola and switching my restaurant over to Pepsi products. I will also be recommending my associated restaurants to do the same. I am appalled at how Coca Cola thinks that we are so stupid as to buy this garbage. If you want to try and disprove me or change my mine David Moran, contact me at nathanin3d@yahoo.ca. Good luck.

  10. Greg says:

    I can’t even be bothered to be appalled by this. Coke should be forced to feed five senior managers a year to the bears, until the bear populations stabilize. Sorry, that’s all I can think of. No wait! Make it ten managers – the kind with red ties.

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