Tim Longhurst's Blog

Coke’s disrespect for public spaces backfired – yes, there’s a lesson here

February 1st, 2006 · No Comments

qanda.gifThere’s a lot of talk at the moment about the zero coke movement. Already thousands of people have visited the site and I’ve had a sea of supportive media and emails. Today, an advertising guy emailed, asking what all the fuss was about. While plenty of advertising media have gone to great lengths to explain this, I have decided to have a go as well…

Coke’s ‘guerilla’ advertising campaign so far has involved SPAM, graffiti and illegal postering all by a corporation that buys more of our attention than any other. Coke has plastered street furniture, outdoor advertising, print & broadcast ads and product placement in just about every movie since E.T.

We need some spaces in our lives that aren’t ramming commercial messages into our faces.

Community forums, our local neighbourhoods and footpaths are all places most of us would like to enjoy without being sold a product or service.

Coke’s “zero” campaign designers failed to understand that 20-30 year old males value commercial-free spaces as much as anyone. The zero coke movement and similar sites are a ‘shot across the bows’ of advertisers considering sailing further into what should remain non-commercial territory.

If your advertising trashes non-commercial spaces, people may well jam your ads and define your brand quicker than you can say “Aspartame, an artificial sweetener in Coke Zero, may cause brain cancer.”.

I hope that clears things up.

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Category: Corporate craziness

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

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

Corporate Social Responsibility – Show the community you care

May 12th, 2005 · No Comments

RUSH MOTTLING is a guest columnist. While Rush’s views do not necessarily reflect those of this website, we feel our readers deserve access to ideas from a variety of perspectives. We hope you enjoy the words of this popular and charismatic commentator.

ogilvy.jpgThe day Coca-Cola announced they were putting recycling points throughout Sydney, I came close to selling my shares. As a stockholder, I was outraged. What were they doing squandering my dividends on this hippy-initiative?

I’m man enough to admit, I didn’t give the folks at Coke the credit they deserve.

Some people are starting to ask questions about the “limits to growth” and they’re looking at companies like Coke with an eye of suspicion.

Some critics contend that legitimate enterprises such as Coca-Cola place an “unnecessary burden” on an “ailing planet”. They focus on the trucks, plastics factories, sugar-cane plantations and refrigeration systems that are required to drive an industry that “ultimately creates cavities, obesity and landfill”. So how can Coke address such concerns while leaving their core business unscathed? One way is to invest in recycling containers. Now that’s proactive environmentalism.

Of course Coke cares about the environment – they know it’s all about striking a balance. Coke have listened to their stakeholders and they’ve made some significant changes. Through the purchase of recycling containers they’ve become greener than a Sprite bottle! You might hear critics like Tim Longhurst claim that such initiatives are a cynical move to distract the public. Let me launch a pre-emptive strike on such stupidity: Longy, you’re an idiot.

Our friends at Coke are investing in what is called ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR). It’s a complex process that involves a consideration of what the environment or the community need and then demonstrating that you share
those concerns and fixing those problems is what your company is all about.

To illustrate the importance of CSR, I’ll include some case studies:

Community Case Study: National Australia Bank

National Australia Bank have recently reported a 17 per cent jump in first-half net profit to $2.5 billion. The next minute, they announce they’re going to fire 10% of their workforce: 4200 workers.

What are you going to do? Focus on the devastated families?

Of course not. You might need to be reminded that the NAB allows charities to list their fundraising events on the bank’s website! How many companies do that? NAB are the good guys!

Really, it all balances out.

Environment Case Study: Shell Oil

The television commercial opens with soothing ‘pan flute’ whistling. An environmental scientist is gushing about how glad she is to be working with such a great, forward thinking company…how she’s proud to be protecting our ‘fragile environment’. Cut to footage of untouched wilderness… A sweeping panorama of rainforest set amongst rolling mountains… Fade to black… Reveal Shell logo.

I marvel at Shell’s commitment to the environment every time I picture that commercial. Critics might question what a pristine rainforest has to do with an oil company. But where are critics going to find $5 million to run a counter-campaign? Not from selling beads and driving Canola Oil cars!

In the Shell example I have highlighted one of the most important elements of great CSR: Greenwashing. For too long, businesses have taken the environment for granted. Sure, they have exploited it for profit, but it’s only in recent years that they have begun exploiting it for reputation.

A buddy of mine at Burson Marsteller summed up CSR with these words: Perception Management. “Changing what
you do?” he shuddered, “That’s hard. Changing what it looks like you do?” he smiled: ‘That can be arranged.”

Perhaps the most valuable element of CSR is that there is little need for transparency: you can spend $50,000 on a charity and then $500,000 talking about how good it felt to give to charity. Pretty soon, people will see that it’s ok if your company pays little or no tax: you give more than enough back to the community as it is. Charging tax to the
very company that is providing recycling containers across Sydney?

Sounds a bit rich, doesn’t it?

Rush Mottling is not real. He is made up.
Rush’s essays are published here with permission.

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Category: rush mottling