Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Coca Cola's cage fight

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Camden Howitt and Sam Judd lying in less than one-fifth of the plastic bottles picked-up by volunteers in one day, from the shores of uninhabited Rangitoto Island. Photo / Supplied
Camden Howitt and Sam Judd lying in less than one-fifth of the plastic bottles picked-up by volunteers in one day, from the shores of uninhabited Rangitoto Island. Photo / Supplied

It seems big brands will do anything to get their logos in front of the public eye.

Skimpy 'models' are making headlines nationwide as they prance around a boxing ring with KFC emblazoned on their bums, billions of people will soak up the fat golden arches of McDonalds when they sponsor the Olympic games and some companies are even happy when their logos make the news as rubbish that washes up on the beach during clean-up events.

The fact is for many companies any time in the public eye is considered a win, whether it fits the brand or not and even if it is negative. They say that even if the publicity is bad - the logo may make you crave their product - much like cigarette advertising on a crashed race car which makes every sports report. This might not be a surprising tactic for Coca Cola, whose original design brief for the bottle was that it 'should be shaped that, even if broken, one could tell at a glance what it was' and is sold in over 200 countries.

But the sugary giant seems to have changed its stance now that a competitor has actually spelled out that re-usable is much better for the environment than recyclable as I have mentioned before.

Soda Stream is a soft drink system where you carbonate your own water in re-usable vessels which was very popular in the 70s and 80s. They claim to have saved the world from over 1.8 billion plastic bottles since January 2009. In about the same time, we have picked up 27,716 of discarded drink decanters from the beach, so it struck me that this product was taking a step in the right direction.

Perhaps Coke finally felt threatened that a true competitor was on the rise. Sodastream's U.S. sales grew from US$4.4 million in 2007 to $85 million in 2011 and their market cap increased from US$367 - $1.46 billion nine months after publicly listing on the NASDAQ . This may seem a lot, but is a pittance compared to Coca Cola. However the world heavyweight in sugar-laden drinks doesn't like to be challenged in a market that they dominate, so threw Soda Stream into the ring with threats of a lawsuit when they filled up cages of discarded plastic bottles to expose how horrific our consumption of plastic bottles really is.

Many saw the famous brands in public, but this time it was different. People seeing the world-renowned logo was suddenly not positive when a competing product accompanied the message. So they send in their big guns.

What the Atlanta-based soft drink giant didn't realise is that a cage fight was exactly what Soda Stream wanted - your classic David versus Goliath situation that was destined to generate attention. Soda Stream has actively published the 'cease and desist' letter from Coke's lawyers and started a virtual campaign on Facebook .

This cheap, but effective marketing tactic has not only exposed a fundamental weakness in their power-hungry competitors - its environmental track record - but it has also generated huge support for the brand. They have over 110,000 followers and are growing every day.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the case. Coke's claim is that Soda Stream is making their brand look bad. Well, you might find a few people out there who would say that the Coca Cola Company's products make our beaches, drains and landfills look bad. And that is without mention of what such products do to some people's bodies...

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