Tim Longhurst's Blog

Consumers: 1 Coke: zero

January 22nd, 2006 · 7 Comments

zerocorner.jpgIt all started a few weeks ago. A railway station billboard invited me to check out thezeromovement.com. Then the back of a magazine invited me to do the same. I was intrigued, but I didn’t log on.

A few days later, a friend emailed me. He’d seen the website and wondered who these guys were. He thought I might be able to tell him what it’s about.

THEZEROMOVEMENT.com

The website was black, red and white. According to the dates on the site, every few days, the guy running the site, Carl, would post his little anti-mainstream mindbomb.

The site’s dates indicated the site had been created in June, 2005.

But something wasn’t quite right. Who was this Carl guy? A search of domain name ownership revealed that the website had only been registered in November, 2005 and was owned by Coca-Cola.

The zero movement was a Coke frontgroup built to promote coke zero, a chemically-sweetened soda.

What’s wrong with a Coke frontgroup anyway?

Two things: hypocrisy and dishonesty.

1. Hypocrisy.

While their frontgroup appears to advocate taking a “sick of work day” in a national campaign, Coke does not offer its staff such an option. While their frontgroup appears to advocate a four day week, as far as I could ascertain, Coke are yet to offer their staff a week’s wages for four days work.

Here’s a quote from the zero movement’s website:

“Everywhere you look someone is telling you how to behave, how to act, what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Even life itself seems to come with increasing limits for every year that passes.”

Contrast this with Coke’s current slogan, “as it should be”. Coke’s ads tell you how to enjoy summer, and Coke’s frontgroup is complaining about people telling you how to behave.

2. Dishonesty.

A significant number of community chat boards were hit by people who appear to be in some capacity working for Coke as they attempted to create ‘buzz’ for the zero movement. However if that is the case, not once did these people declare their affiliation with the multinational corporation. Using nicknames like Jordy1982 and Sally1980 these posters asked questions that were consistant with the Coke campaign and always signed off by linking to the Coke owned site:

zeroposts.gif

Now I may be wrong, and maybe those posts weren’t from people marketing for Coke. But who else would bother?

There is plenty of dishonesty and misinformation on the internet, but projects like wikipedia show that the vast majority of the internet’s citizens operate with honesty and integrity. Coke’s dishonest decision to make up dates for posts and imply their site had been running for six months longer than it really had puts them in that special group of scammers and spammers that bring down the quality of the internet.

THEZEROMOVEMENT.org

Within a day my friends and I had set up thezeromovement.org to bring Coke’s scam to the public’s attention. We named the site, “The Zero Coke Movement“.

Linking to information about the artificial sweetners Coke had added to their new product line, the site suggested we’d all be better off adopting a zero Coke policy. We encouraged people to give their soda money to charity rather than Coke.

All emails to the site were positive. People were really glad that someone had gone to the trouble of identifying Coke as the publisher of thezeromovement.com.

To be fair, a number of bloggers had beaten me to that punch, but with such a prominent domain name and a dedicated website, thezeromovement.org became a focal point of online discussions on Coke’s ‘zero’ campaign.

Pretty soon The Age wrote an article exploring Coke’s campaign, quoting our website:

“They’re a bunch of advertising wankers pretending to be a grassroots movement,” anti-Coca-Cola website thezeromovement.org says.

The punchline on the coke joke

The Age article was probably the last straw. Very soon, thezeromovement.com as a Coke frontgroup was dead. Coke attempted to ‘out’ themselves, but the internet community had beaten them to the punch.

The new site has more Coke logos than a third world snack shack. Responding to the criticisms launched from across the web, the website appeared to be well and truly in ‘over compensation’ mode.

Rather than a triumphant declaration of Coke’s marketing genius and proud association with the zero movement, Coke ended up publishing a telling admission:

“…it hasn’t been for everyone.”

The site continued by saying that thezeromovement.com is a place to be heard, but it seems that anything critical of Coke is yet to be published.

Coke starts to censor itself

Coke’s original website was peppered with sexist overtones. Well, no sooner had Coke’s logo gone onto thezeromovement.com, than this little gem of a post was deleted:

chickflicks.jpg

Fortunately, I had kept a copy.

I guess Coke have one set of values when they put their name on something and another set of values when they’re speaking through a frontgroup.

Postscript

Within a week of the launch of thezeromovement.org, Coke’s misleading and deceptive campaign was dead. Coke’s defensive strategy involved a re-done, even-more-censored website and an update to the hundreds of billboards they have all over Australia.

I have no doubt Coke would have taken responsibility for the zero movement at some stage. But I have a strong feeling that the timing and tone of Coke’s admission that the zero movement was a frontgroup was to mitigate the public relations disaster that was starting to surface.

To the many people who have written about thezeromovement.com, linked to thezeromovement.org, emailed encouragement and supported the rapid development of the Coke Zero site, well done and thank you.

Let the zero Coke movement live on…

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