Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Coca-Cola is running a stealth advertising campaign.
Stealth? Why would a corporation as ad-dependent as Coke spend big bucks on advertising that it doesn't want consumers to notice? Shhhh -- because the campaign is a surreptitious ploy to enlist restaurants in a marketing conspiracy that targets you, your children, and -- of course -- your wallet.
Coke calls its covert gambit "Cap the Tap," urging restaurateurs to stop offering plain old tap water to customers: "Every time your business fills a cup or glass with tap water, it pours potential profits down the drain." Cap the Tap can put a stop to that, says Coke, "by teaching [your] crew members or waitstaff suggestive selling techniques to convert requests for tap water into orders for revenue-generating beverages."
The program provides a guide for restaurant managers who would direct Coke's customer assault, a backroom poster to remind waitstaff "when and how to suggestively sell beverages," and a participant's guide to put "suggestive selling" foremost in mind as staff confronts the enemy... uh, I mean customers. Tactics include outflanking those recalcitrant customers who insist on water. Just switch the sales pitch to bottled water -- remember, Coca-Cola also owns Dasani, one of the top-selling brands of bottled water in the US.
Early in its Cap the Tap scheme, the beverage behemoth offered two incentive programs for waitstaff: "Suggest More and Score" and "Get Your Fill." Both were competitions to spur servers to push more Coke on American restaurant-goers.
Coke's CEO has declared that "obesity is today's most challenging health issue," and solving it requires all of us "doing our part." Really -- by selling more Coke? That's proof that hypocrisy is now the official rocket fuel of corporate profits.
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Photo: Flickr user Tommy Wong, creative commons licensed.