Tim Longhurst's Blog

What’s wrong with Coke, anyway?

January 31st, 2006 · 2 Comments

Since starting the zero coke movement, I have watched discussions take shape on community bulletin boards around the world. People are asking all sorts of questions, but the recurring theme is, “What’s wrong with Coke? What have they done wrong?”

Setting up the zero coke movement has provided a forum to consider Coke’s business practices. Regarding their business practices, the FAQ page of the zero coke movement site links to information on concerns about Coke’s activities in India and Colombia, which are currently two hotspots. Coke has attempted to defend themselves at their own website, cokefacts.org. It’s amazing to read Coke attempt to defend themselves against some strong allegations.

It has also opened the opportunity to consider Coke’s role in our global community: to consider whether Coke’s use of a significant collection of our world’s resources is in the best interests of our society.

What’s Really Important

In the grand scheme of ‘What’s Really Important’, I believe that everyone deserves food and water… Globally, we have the resources to achieve this, but for whatever reason, it’s not happening.

Instead, in a perverse irony, we have some people who genuinly don’t have enough (many, but not all are in developing countries) and then we have marketing people. These people’s job is to make us rich people feel like we don’t have enough. That is, that our lives would be more complete if we had things a little better… a better car, a better soda…

In a world with plenty of genuine need, Coke’s marketers are busy attempting to “create needs” where they might not have otherwise existed.

Whilst in pure market economic terms, all needs are equal, most of us recognise that in the real world there exists a ‘heirarchy of needs’… A poor person’s desire for a drink of clean water at an affordable price is in most people’s minds more important than another person’s desire to have a pre-packaged, sweetened drink that is chilled and comes with a theme song.

But here’s the thing: a well designed, targeted, big budget campaign to deliver clean water to the remaining 20% of the world doesn’t exist. In the meantime, Coke are reportedly spending $18million to convince 20-30 year old image-obsessed males to drink fizzy, sweetened water.

While most of us would gladly give up soda right now if it meant some disadvantaged person had clean water, our world seems to complex and disconnected for that to seem possible.

If Coke were to shut down, would the world be a better place? We’d certainly save a lot of electricity with all those vending machines gone. There’d be less pollution with all those delivery trucks off the roads, plastics and aluminium complexes would pump less toxins into the air as demand for packaging takes a hit. People’s self esteem might start to improve as Coke’s advertising campaign impossipeople start to fade from our memories.

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Category: Tim's Projects

Consumers: 1 Coke: zero

January 22nd, 2006 · 8 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.


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:


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.


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:


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.


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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Category: Tim's Projects

Model behaviour for media industry

January 22nd, 2006 · No Comments

beautymagazine.jpgThere are a few TV shows at the moment that explore the ‘cosmetic surgery’ industry. In Australia, media reports indicate that ‘nips’ and ‘tucks’ are increasingly being given as gifts.

Given that people often use media images to inspire their ‘moments with the scalpal’, maybe it’s time we turned the scalpal on media images.

Most advertising agencies and media companies ‘enhance’ the look of people using software such as Adobe Photoshop.

Sure, many of us are aware that airbrushing and image tweaking is a standard practice in the media. We might hear someone mention airbrusing once or twice a year. But the frequency with which we see manipulated images on billboards and magazines is far greater than once or twice a year.

Enhanced images should be labelled as such.

Such a move would almost certainly have a postive impact on self-image. This could mean lowering incidences of mental illness, eating disorders and beauty magazine sales. All positive things.

I propose panels be added to magazines and billboards that declare any modifications made to images of people.

Something like this:


In this way, instead of getting surgery, we can join together to laugh at the plastic impossipeople used in the media. Laughing is great for your self-esteem and involves few stitches.

The Swedish government has recently commissioned this website to demonstrate some of the ways mass media images are manipulated. Until the panels arrive on the pages of magazines and in the corners of magazines, we need to remind ourselves (and each other) that impossipeople aren’t real. They’re just figments of art directors’ imaginations.

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Category: Communication and connection

the Zero Coke movement

January 6th, 2006 · No Comments

FIRST: thezeromovement.com
THEN: thezeromovement.org

Enjoy the zero coke difference!

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Category: Tim's Projects

Do Something Christmas…

October 13th, 2005 · No Comments

santa.jpgChristmas is coming (in ten weeks’ time) and here in Sydney, the supermarkets are already starting to sell Christmas-themed processed foodstuffs.

As the plastic decorations go up, the stores will encourage the plastic in our wallets to come out.

Yes, it’s true, Christmas has become commercialised, but it’s not just Christians who are bothered by this. The idea of a season that involves spending time with friends and family, of being generous and thoughtful and considering those less-fortunate is appealing to the vast majority of the people I know (and I hope the vast majority of people I don’t know, too!).

The modern Christmas seems dominated by the worst excesses of capitalism rather than the best side of humanity.

Most of us will receive more Christmas catalogues than Christmas cards. Businesses will employ more pretend Santas than anyone else. Why? Because a Santa in a shopping centre helps align Christmas with consumption.

Corporations will again encourage us to imagine that Christmas presents are made by tiny little people called elves. In reality the tiny little people are mostly sweat-shop workers and they’re only tiny because they’re under-nourished or because they’re under-thirteen, or both.

Let’s do something about it…

With all this in mind, I am calling for a “Do Something Christmas”. Let’s not get sucked-in to settling for a commercial Christmas… Let’s take the time we would otherwise spend shopping and paying off credit-card debts and actually spend it with the people we care about. Let’s play games and have fun together. Let’s build stuff with kids in the days leading up to Christmas.

Here are some more suggestions:

  • Dress up as Santa Claus and take the train across town
  • Send “secret santa” messages to neighbours and coworkers
  • Go into the streets and sing creative Christmas carols such as the ones below.*

buynothingchristmas.org has even more ideas.

*A few friends of mine are planning to sing carols in the Sydney CBD this year. If you’d like to join us, send me an email.

Click to continue reading “Do Something Christmas…”

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Category: culture jamming