If you take a look at the comment section of any popular article on the internet, you’re bound to find at least one person calling the author a “shill.” Of course, it’s safe to assume that 99 percent of the time, the author is not in fact, a paid pusher of some corporate or government agenda. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and most of us don’t need any special benefits to voice our beliefs.
On the other hand, some people really are just flat out shills, and it isn’t always obvious. After decades of media exposure, most of us have become adept at catching the underlying themes in television shows and movies, and product placements have become painfully obvious. But since the internet is still a fairly new medium, sometimes its subtle methods of advertising go under the radar.
For instance, if you were reading a health article on the internet, and the author suggested that drinking mini cans of soda could be a healthy option for you, would you think they were a paid shill for Coca-Cola? Or would you think they were just an idiot? Personally, I would have assumed the latter until recently.
Earlier this month it was revealed that yes, Coca-Cola has been shamelessly paying off “health” writers on the internet to hock their products.
Coca-Cola is courting controversy again after a new report found that the company pays fitness and nutrition experts to recommend drinking its soda as a healthy snack.
Several nutritionists and fitness experts suggested that sipping on a mini can of Coke could be part of a healthy diet during American Heart Month in February, but the Associated Press reported Monday that Coca-Cola is working with health experts in an attempt to promote its sugary beverage – one that’s otherwise being criticized for contributing to America’s obesity problem.
In response to the revelation, Coca-Cola has answered for themselves in the same way you might expect a teenager to respond to being caught with a cigarette behind the school bleachers. “Well everyone else was doing it, so…”
The company would not reveal how much it paid those who plugged its product, but it dismissed the behavior as something all major brands do. Some, like Kellogg’s, put money behind studies that highlight the healthy nature of their products, while others like PepsiCo also pay dietitians to recommend Frito-Lay and Tostito chips.
“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” Coca-Cola spokesperson Ben Sheidler told AP. “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.”
At the root of this product placement drive, is Coca-Cola’s need to stay relevant. Ever since America became aware of its obesity epidemic, products like Coke became the poster child of unhealthy consumption. Their American sales volume hasn’t really gone anywhere since 2002, and they needed a new way to sell their product to a more health conscious public.
Enter, the mini Colas. Not only do these 7.5 oz cans fetch a higher price per ounce, but they suggest to consumers that they’re a healthier option. I guess that is technically true, in that you’d be drinking less sugar-water, but it’s still an addictive product. That’s like trying to quit smoking by switching to lights. You’ll probably just wind up smoking more cigarettes in the long run and spending more money. Now that I think of it, that’s exactly what buying a mini Cola is like.
And this marketing strategy becomes obvious when you read what some of these health writers were saying, like “Select portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans” or calling the soda “perfectly portioned.”
Now it’s one thing plug a product that is unhealthy and addictive. I don’t think there’s anything unethical about that. I say “free market” and let the potato chips fall where they may. But to parade yourself as a health expert while subtly influencing your readers to buy something you know is unhealthy, is pretty of despicable.
However, there is a silver lining in all this. If Coca-Cola is reaching to these depths to sell their corn syrupy pesticide/rust removal/paint removal juice, then maybe Americans are finally tired of paying for the privilege to slowly kill themselves.