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Book Review: No Sweet Talk

The book is surely going to have an impact on most of us who reach out for that favourite fizz of ours without a bother. An extremely well researched work and though wonderfully structured in the 28 sections spread over nine chapters, one tends to feeling inundated with facts and data at places

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Marion nestle is one gutsy woman. She takes on the mighty cola companies and lays bare the impact their products are having on the world at large. And she does it with such flair and impunity. Soda Politics is a work of passionate labour and it wages a war against the soda biggies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in particular, with high-pitched stances backed with intricate factual details and reports put across in a structured manner that have a massive impact. Not only the book shows these billion-dollar conglomerates on a weak wicket, it also sends shivers up one’s spine for having grown up merrily drinking the popular sugary drinks.

Nestle, a Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, is extremely assertive in the book. She believes that the standard operating practices of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, in particular, and of all companies making sugary-carbonated beverages, demand the same kind of close scrutiny as has been given to cigarette companies, and for many of the same reason. She cites examples of how Coca-Cola uses philanthropy to win friends and deflect critics (Pan American Health Organisation, a subsidiary of WHO is cited as one example) and how PepsiCo uses similar strategies of partnering with programmes to promote health and social development (PepsiCo’s partnership with Asian Football Development Project is cited here). Given Coca-Cola’s and PepsiCo’s generosity, it is no surprise that the beneficiaries do not initiate action or join campaigns to drink less soda. Corporate charity is no longer viewed as a garnish, an optional nicety, instead it seems to be an integral part of these firms’ core business strategy furthering their narrow agendas.

Dissecting the tactics deployed by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, the author makes a case out of the marketing strategies deployed by these two giants in targeting minorities and the poor, African and Hispanic Americans. While some members of these minority groups prized the efforts of the soda companies to advertise in their publications and support their organisations, the rising prevalence of obesity in their communities have led others to view such relationships as exploitative. The case in developing countries such as ours is no different. Then, there is this interesting story Nestle narrates of one Dr Derek Yach. A former Director of non-communicable disease at WHO, Yach was the toast of public health advocates for the work he had done to counter the marketing strategies of tobacco and food companies. In 2007, Yach shocked the international public health community by taking a job at PepsiCo as Director and later VP of global health policy. Many in the community viewed this move with skepticism for they felt that such appointments provided a ‘halo effect’ or perhaps a smokescreen, which actually undermined the greater effort to bring about real change. This also went on to demonstrate that is not just the money power or marketing acumen but also the strategic brilliance of these giants that they manage to be a part of everyone’s life and not in a completely complimentary way but then there isn’t much noise being made about it.

Soda Politics shows ways to take action, of what can be done and how to do it. There are numerous examples of successful campaigns, along with a list of groups advocating for healthy beverage choices. The data, the test-reports, the claims are all backed up with extensive notes in the end for the reader to take up advocacy against these giants and their ways. The book is surely going to have an impact on most of us who reach out for that favourite fizz of ours without a bother. An extremely well researched work and though wonderfully structured in the 28 sections spread over nine chapters, one tends to feeling inundated with facts and data at places. Having said that, one must conclude by stating that Nestle’s arguments are certainly going to play on the reader’s mind and he or she will be forced to think twice before uncorking that bottle of cola. Their superlative advertising notwithstanding!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Giraj M. Sharma

Sharma is founder-director, BehindTheMoon Consultancy

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