Coca-Cola and national women's blogging conference BlogHer have come under fire from bloggers for naming Coke as BlogHer ‘13's "wellness sponsor."
In its ninth year, BlogHer is one of the nation's largest blogging conferences focused on content created by and for women and has many sponsors, but the conference fell under particular scrutiny for naming Coke its "wellness sponsor." Coke gave away free pedometers to conference attendees and sponsored the "Steps to Wellness Challenge," awarding prizes for participants who posted photos of their pedometers, with number of steps takent, to social media. (No one mentioned that it would take nearly an hour to walk off the calories in a single can of regular Coke.)
Health blogger Leah Segedie of Mamavation called out BlogHer for accepting Coke as its wellness sponsor. “I don’t know why they chose to accept Coke as a sponsor, but this marketing ploy is consistent with what they’ve [Coke] been doing all year with other conferences, commercials, and outlets,” she said.
Segedie organized a Twitter party (she has more than 33,000 followers alone), using Coke's own hashtag for the challenge, to discuss why they don't believe soft drinks and wellness should go hand in hand. She organized more than 40 "panelists" to participate—other bloggers ready to call out Coke and BlogHer for misleading marketing. Health and fitness bloggers in particular posted many tweets and articles in support of the movement.
From the BlogHer website, "We know from our own research and conversations with you that our own health, our families’ health and healthcare itself is a serious issue for BlogHers. We can all do our part. Not just by making healthier choices for ourselves, but by leading by example, whether that's for our children, friends, or neighbors. Moving forward toward a healthy future means moving forward together. And Coca-Cola and BlogHer are proud to be a part of that."
For its part, Coca-Cola responded to an ABC news request with this statement: "At The Coca-Cola Company we share a belief that when people come together real progress happens. We support BlogHer ‘13 because it brings together diverse audiences and perspectives. It's in that spirit of sharing and learning, that women across the country have told us they want to know how The Coca-Cola Company is addressing challenges like obesity. This week in Chicago we're looking forward to sharing information on how we are offering more no- and low-calorie beverages, up-front and clear calorie information on our packages and in vending machines, and supporting physical activity. We also hope that people will join us during our "steps challenge" at the conference – more than 300 people have registered already – and engage in some healthy competition that supports active living. By working together with women, families, and health experts – we hope to inspire and improve health in communities everywhere."
But many feel that this sponsorship by Coke is just the latest in a string of public relations moves to distance the company from associations with obesity and to support claims that it is taking strides to promote health. Coke is currently involved with a lawsuit brought by the Center for Science in Public Interest for “deceptive and unsubstantiated health claims” on VitaminWater (which contains 33g of sugar, almost as much as a can of Coke) and recently narrowly avoided having to add the phrase "may cause cancer" to its labels.