How Coke Lied About Vitaminwater & Felt No ShameS

When Coke was confronted for promoting sugary Vitaminwater as a health beverage, their reaction was basically, "What? You morons actually believed that?" (We're paraphrasing.)

Vitaminwater is promoted by athletes. It has been promoted with campaigns containing lines like, "kiss me, I'm healthy," and a "healthy state of physical and mental well-being." And, well, it's called Vitaminwater! But it has no health benefits; indeed, it's basically just water and sugar with a "penny's worth" of "vitamin." Accordingly, a non-profit public interest group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is suing parent company Coke on the grounds that Vitaminwater's labeling and advertising contain "deceptive and unsubstantiated claims" and in the process, violating consumer-protection laws. As Time put it,

According to CSPI nutritionists, Vitaminwater's sugar content more than offsets any advertised health benefits provided by the nutrients in the drink. "They added vitamins to crap," says Stephen Gardner, chief litigator for CSPI. "And it's still crap. Consumers shouldn't have to assume that the front of a label is a lie. You cannot deceive in the big print and tell the truth later."

Colloquially, the case comes down to what's known as the "jellybean rule": basically, a jellybean is still a jellybean, even if it's "low cholesterol" and therefore a manufacturer can't imply it's health-food. Reports the Huffington Post's John Robbins,

In his recent 55-page ruling, Federal Judge John Gleeson (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York), wrote, "At oral arguments, defendants (Coca-Cola) suggested that no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage." Noting that the soft drink giant wasn't claiming the lawsuit was wrong on factual grounds, the judge wrote that, "Accordingly, I must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true."

In other words, Coke's defense was that no one reasonable could think Vitaminwater was anything but glorified soda… And is it their fault if people are idiots? They don't deny that the drink has no nutrititional value (it doesn't.) Says Robbins,

How many people with weight problems have consumed products like Vitaminwater in the mistaken belief that the product was nutritionally positive and carried no caloric consequences? How many have thought that consuming Vitaminwater was a smart choice from a weight-loss perspective? The very name "Vitaminwater" suggests that the product is simply water with added nutrients, disguising the fact that it's actually full of added sugar.

Who is this target demo who should know better? While its appeal is cross-market, Vitaminwater has clearly tried to market itself as much to women as men — see the above ad, the spokeswomen, not to mention the palette — with one type specifically geared towards pregnant women. But whoever it is, clearly the ideal customer is one who, according to Coke, likes the illusion of health while knowing full well they're putting something into their bodies that's less healthy than water.

The Dark Side Of Vitaminwater [Huffington Post]
Is Vitaminwater Really A Healthy Drink? [Time]