Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chatting with Body Break's Hal Johnson on Coca-Cola and Participaction

Took this photo outside a local corner store

On Saturday I had the opportunity to have a nice long chat with Hal Johnson, the iconic co-host of Body Break, and a name that for Canadians over the age of 25 is likely closely linked with ParticipACTION (a Canadian physical activity promoting NGO).

As I blogged about yesterday, Hal's tweet regarding his opposition to the ParticipACTION/Coca-Cola partnership made a bit of a splash and I wanted to explore his thoughts in more than just 140 characters. I had planned on posting it as a podcast, but given that we spoke for over an hour, I'd best distill it down to its essence.

While Hal had been aware and uncomfortable of Coca-Cola's partnership with his former employer for some time, it was at the movies with his daughter that he realized he needed to speak out. There was an advertisement for SoGo Active (embedded below) - a Canadian move more program co-sponsored by ParticipACTION and Coca-Cola.

While watching the ad Hal reports his 13 year old daughter turned to him and said,
"Dad, that doesn't seem right. Why is Coke with ParticipACTION. Isn't ParticipACTION all about health?"
And so Hal sent out his tweet.

Hal worries about the partnership,
"It sends out a mixed message, and it doesn't fit with the brand and Coke gets the halo effect of the ParticipACTION brand. It's an iconic brand and they benefit from it."
I agree with Hal, and frankly so does Coca-Cola.

Here's Coca-Cola's marketing chief Joe Tripodi to the Wall Street Journal on how these sorts of partnerships benefit Coke,
"If we can get 40 million-plus fans, or even some subset of them talking positively about the about the things we’re doing, ultimately that’s a good thing for us
And by "good thing" Mr. Tripodi means sales,
"I think it’s probably a leading indicator of potential sales."
And what kind of sales does Mr. Tripodi hope for? He told CNBC in 2011,
"We want to double our business in basically a decade."
As for the message being promoted by Sogo Active to Canadian youth in a ParticipACTION/Coca-Cola cobranding?  It's pretty clear the message is in Coca-Cola's best interest too, because the message SoGo Active is actively promoting is that obesity isn't about food, it's about fitness - it's not the Coca-Cola, it's the internet.  And to tackle obesity, what does Sogo Active recommend?  Here's an official SoGo promotional video and its roughly 13 year old spokesperson  explaining it's all about laziness,
"The obesity rate is going to skyrocket and the only way for us to change that is to get off our butt"

You know I fully understand why Coca-Cola would want to double its sales in the next 10 years. What's completely lost on me is why ParticipACTION would want to help them to do so.

Hal sums up my feelings about the ParticipACTION's partnership with Coca-Cola perfectly,
"I think it's wrong.  There's no question it's wrong.  And that's why I said it.  And I believe it and I certainly would not back down from that."
Me neither Hal, and thanks for speaking up.