Blacks Overindulge in Sugary Drinks,<br />
Marketers Celebrate

Are we being over exposed to a massive amount of marketing for sugary drinks?

Not unlike my former self who used to sit before a priest ready to spill (some) of my guts out of guilt, a former Coca Cola executive reached out to ABC News to express remorse over pushing sugary drinks to young people and minorities. Todd Putman, who used to be a top exec at Coca Cola from 1997 to 2000, revealed, “A lot of people who have spent a lot of time selling a lot of Cokes have some karmic debt that they feel like they owe. I certainly do.”

On why soft drink companies targeted Blacks, Latinos, and teens, Putman explained that it was the growth market, adding, “It represented a lifetime of opportunity.” 

He elaborated to the Chicago Tribune: "I'm not against soft drinks per se. What I am for is balance of power. And I think the power has shifted in the wrong direction. The resources, the scale, the intelligence, the strategy these companies use is intense. We need to take all that thinking … all that strategy and convert it, jujitsu it, to healthy products."

Right on cue, Coca Cola argued that Americans are actually drinking fewer sugary drinks and said there is no scientific evidence of sugary drinks to obesity.

Insert your sinister laugh here.

Meanwhile, the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity published a study last fall that confirmed suspicions that “Young people are being exposed to a massive amount of marketing for sugary drinks, such as full-calorie soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks.”

Some, like Ad Age writer David Morse, think this is a good thing. In a piece entitled “Hats Off to the Soft-Drink Industry for Giving Attention to Hispanics and Blacks,” Morse, asks whether or not this is merely “just a good example of smart marketing?”

Morse, who calls himself a “multicultural market researcher,” acknowledges that he’s  ”done a lot of work over the years for one of the big soft-drink companies.”

You can tell.

He says he’s witnessed the company he’s done work for do their part “to increase consumption of its diet drinks, bottled water, juice and healthy snacks.”

Morse then claims: “But let's face it. Hispanics and African Americans are much less interested in diet products. Sugary drinks -- often the sweeter the better -- do well with them. There are a lot of cultural barriers to getting both these groups to understand the importance of being lean.”

Such as socioeconomic disparities that produce a lack of knowledge about the benefits of healthy eating, grocery stores in various Black and Latino neighborhoods that either don’t offer affordable healthier products or don’t stock any at all to help such a cause, and other ills that companies like the kind he collects checks from capitalize on.

Morse admits that he’s not a health-care professional, but he should also acknowledge that as a “multicultural marketer” he isn’t exactly doing a grand job of understanding the nuances behind the cultures he speaks for. That’s why he ought to take Putman’s point about the need to improve marketing plans to promote healthier alternatives to heart.

As it is now, the Yale study found:

  • Black children and teens saw 80 percent to 90 percent more ads compared with white youth, including more than twice as many for Sprite, 5-hour Energy, and Vitamin Water.
  • From 2008 to 2010, Hispanic children saw 49 percent more ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks on Spanish-language TV, and Hispanic teens saw 99 percent more ads.
  • Hispanic preschoolers saw more Spanish-language ads for Coca-Cola Classic, Kool-Aid, 7 Up, and Sunny D than Hispanic older children and teens did.

And these drinks contain artificial sweeteners, sugar amounts that exceed the advised daily allotment, and undisclosed caffeine amounts. Morse applauds the “leadership” behind stats such as these because it shows soda companies are “recognizing the changing face of America.” It’s nice to be noticed, but finding new suckers to peddle soft drinks to as obesity rates among minorities soar is no favor to us.

You’d have to be on one hell of a sugar high to think otherwise.

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick