Coca-Cola is the world's largest beverage maker, according to the Miami Herald, and to combat declining soda sales in the United States, the company has employed the help of fitness and nutrition experts.
Fitness bloggers or sponsored mentions in newspapers are similar to product placement in television shows, Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Sheidler told the Miami Herald.
"We have a network of dietitians we work with," said Sheidler. "Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent." According to the Miami Herald, Sheidler declined to say how much an expert gets paid.
Other companies like Kellogg's, General Mills and PepsiCo Inc. are also using the same techniques as Coca-Cola. In February, the Coca-Cola Co. followed a "Heart Health & Black History Month" theme that got the message out via radio and online articles.
According to the Miami Herald, one post refers to a "refreshing beverage option such as a mini can of Coca-Cola," while another suggests "portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans, packs of almonds or pre-portioned desserts for a meal."
The smaller cans are a response to the backlash against sugary drinks. The smaller cans are being called a "guilt-free" way to enjoy soda, according to the Miami Herald, but the smaller cans are bringing in a bigger payday. Small cans cost more per ounce, so even though less soda is being consumed, Coke can still turn a profit.
According to the Miami Herald, Coca-Cola said in a statement that it wants to "help people make decisions that are right for them" and that it works with health experts "to help bring context to the latest facts and science around our products and ingredients." Coke also maintains that any material from a "consultant" will be disclosed in the piece.
Media ethics teacher at The Poynter Institute Kelly McBride said the use of the word "consultant" doesn't make it clear that the author received money for his or her article. "This is an example of opaque sponsored content," McBride told the Miami Herald.
Robyn Flipse is the dietitian that wrote the article suggesting Coke as a snack. She told the Miami Herald that she doesn't drink soda, but she would still suggest the mini-cans of soda as a snack for those who like to drink the sugary beverage - even if she wasn't being paid. "I absolutely think that I provided valuable information," Flipse told the Miami Herald.
The idea to include Coke as a snack in her article came from a suggestion made by a public relations agency for the brand. Flipse has worked with Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association for years, according to the Miami Herald. Flipse also said that she refutes negative information about soft drinks on social media and should an article come out that artificial sweeteners are unhealthy, Flipse told the Miami Herald that she would call the PR agency and ask, "Do you want me to do something about that?"
Sylvia Melendez-Klinger is another dietitian who suggested mini-cans of soda as a healthy snack, according to the Miami Herald. She maintains that the views in her articles are her own. Melendez-Klinger told the Miami Herald that she could not recall if she was paid for her column mentioning the smaller cans of soda.