Is it okay to lie while marketing a food product, so long as your claims are so outrageous that customers woud be dopes to believe any of it?
Coca-Cola has leaned on that shifty rationale during the trial for a lawsuit brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which accused Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater ads of being misleading and misinforming.
Rather than deny charges that the product is not healthy—the company, in fact, admitted as much was true—Coca-Cola instead defended itself by saying, "No consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage."
It's a funny defense, given that Coke has, in fact, spent millions of dollars to market its drink—which contains approximately as many grams of sugar as a soda—as a healthy product. Take a look at this video for an example.
From increased sex drive to greater confidence—Vitaminwater has promised everything but invincibility.
According to CSPI, the company also claims the beverages reduce the risk of chronic disease and eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support immune function.
On the other hand, the bottles do not hide the fact that they contain upward of 30 grams of sugar (one of the cheif complaints about the product). And their tongue-in-cheek advertising is designed to be winsome, not necessarily educational.
Consider the company's recent Facebook wall post: "there aren't many things that irritate us during the summer, but when it comes to the beach, there are a few—sunblock smeared on the shades, sand in the swimsuit (ouch)."
The voice of Vitaminwater doesn't exactly have that Ph.D ring to it.
So, is it up to the consumer to sift through the glib hipster hyperbole for hard nutritional facts?
The blog Crime and Federalism seems to think so:
...somehow Coca-Cola has convinced people to buy the stuff. People also buy low-fat chips and Baked Lay's. People like to rationalize unhealthy decisions. Vitamin Water may as well have been made with water from a river in Egypt."
All told, it's a tricky balance of consumer and corporate responsibility. Companies shouldn't lie, and consumers shouldn't believe everything they're told.
But the safest way to be sure you know what you're drinking and get the vitamins you're after? Take the advice of Huffington post op-ed blogger John Robbins:
it's probably not the best idea to rely on a soft drink company for your vitamins and other essential nutrients. A plant-strong diet with lots of vegetables and fruits will provide you with what you need far more reliably, far more consistently—and far more honestly.