Coca-Cola's Conspiracy Against Tap Water

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.

Listen to this commentary:

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Photo: Flickr user Tommy Wong, creative commons licensed.