Coca-Cola Vending Machine Ethics
A New Kind of Memory Game
A friend of mine recently took his children to a museum. The two kids, ages four and six, loved the exhibits, but a vending machine grabbed their attention. It had a touch screen and a memory game that they loved playing. Unlike the memory games they have at home which teach them to recognize animals and people, this game challenged the kids to remember various Coca-Cola brands.
The memory game or Concentration is a classic that all of us have played. It’s fun, and it’s also very effective in terms of a child’s development. Playing memory can teach a kid to pay attention to small details, help them to focus, and generally improve their visual memory. “A child who plays memory games regularly may actually stay away from diseases like Alzheimer’s or even amnesia as their memory is enhanced.”1 So, the actual act of playing the game is beneficial. The problem arises when you consider what my friend’s kids are remembering: logos of various sugary and diet drinks.
Marketing to Children
People have raised concerns about marketing to children before. A prime example is tobacco. A 1991 study demonstrated that approximately 30% of preschoolers in Augusta and Atlanta, Georgia could pair the Camel cigarette mascot, Old Joe, with a picture of a cigarette. More than 91% of six-year-olds could do the same. Now, cigarette companies have focused their marketing efforts on countries outside of the U.S. In 2013, researchers led a study like the one in 1991 in Brazil, China, Russia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and India. Among the five and six-year-olds interviewed, 68% could identify at least one tobacco logo.
Cigarette companies have had to get creative with their overseas marketing too. They know they can’t use conventional mediums like television or magazines. Thus, they pay “retailers to place their products in the most visible parts of the store (usually either directly behind or in front of the cash register).” 2 Obviously, everyone, including children, will see cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Coca-Cola Reinvents the Vending Machine
Coca-Cola’s gotten creative with its marketing as well, making its vending machines fun, rather than just utilitarian. This is a clever move. Beverages with added sugar are now associated with the obesity epidemic, and diet drinks raise questions about the safety of artificial sweeteners.
Touch screen machines like the one with the memory game, and others like the Coca-Cola Freestyle models make buying a pop a fun experience. The Freestyle machine, for example, allows consumers to choose from 100 different drinks. They can make their own mixes and use the Freestyle app to share them online. The machines also have their own Twitter account, @ccfreestyle, which helps people find their machines and sampling trucks.
So, in the West, are soft drink manufacturers the new tobacco companies? Should they be restricted from advertising in places geared to children like museums? These questions are challenging, given that it can be argued that all smoking is bad, but the occasional can of pop is probably fine. However, some point to the addictive nature of refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Then, there is the memory game aspect. Should children be memorizing any advertising logos?
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1 Sanjay, Sangeeta. “Memory Games for Kids.” StudyVillage.com. 25 May 2011. Web. 28 Jul. 2017. http://www.studyvillage.com/resources/2771-Memory-Games-for-kids.aspx.
2 Brodwin, Erin.” Tobacco Companies Still Target Youth Despite a Global Treaty.” Scientific American. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Jul. 2017. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tobacco-companies-still-target-youth/.