The sponsorship deal between Coca-Cola Great Britain and London Eye owner Merlin Entertainments agreed back in September began at the attraction this weekend. The deal saw the capital's landmark changed from its normal blue colour to Coke red, while staff and security all sported the firm’s branding colour and logo and pods and cafes were dressed with advertisement.
Some public health campaigners have criticised the partnership, suggesting it could encourage consumption of sugary soft drinks. At the opening on Saturday lobbyists from the Children’s Food Campaign handed out 500 toothbrushes to highlight such products' role in children’s tooth decay.
Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, said: “We believe it is inappropriate for a major family attraction such as the London Eye to be sponsored by a sugary drinks company. It sends completely the wrong message not just to children and their parents here in London, but - given the Eye's worldwide recognition and visitor profile - right across the globe.”
Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, told us soft drinks had no possible health benefit, posed huge public health risks and should be regulated accordingly.
Commenting on the nature of this sponsorship, he said the children’s market for soft drinks was huge, and this was the clear driving force behind such investment in sponsorship deals. “This is capitalism, isn’t it?”
He added: "And it's legal – but that’s where the government comes into it.”
He said authorities needed to “get tough” on advertising, saying current self-imposed bans on television advertisements were “a joke”.
Responding to the criticism, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “All of our drinks can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and we have taken a number of actions to help people choose the best drink for them and their families.
“These include signing up to the UK government’s Responsibility Deal and committing to reduce the calories in our drinks, adopting traffic light labelling to provide consumers with simple and clear nutritional information, reformulating many of our brands to reduce their sugar and calorie content and launching smaller packs like our 250ml can.”
In the release for the agreement back in September these commitments were listed, as well as that for no advertising to children under the age of 12. The company did not respond to our question on how such sponsorship interacted with this pledge.
Playing a greater part
Back in September, Jon Woods, Coca-Cola UK and Ireland general manager, said the company had a rich history in London, referencing its sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“Sponsoring the London Eye, an iconic landmark that has its own unique history, will help us play an even greater part in future moments of happiness and celebration in the capital,” he said.
Greater regulation needed?
Children’s Food Campaign said a 20 pence per litre duty on sugary drinks would reduce sugar consumption, save the NHS £39m and improve health and quality of life for many. It called on the UK to follow France, Mexico and Hungary's lead, where sugary drink taxes had already been introduced. “The money raised could be used to set up a Children’s Health Fund, to pay for programmes to improve children's health and protect the environment they grow up in.”
MacGregor suggested some companies may even welcome greater regulation in terms of advertising since this would create a level playing field.
Ultimately though he said a continuation, and standardisation, of work on sugar reduction was key, which he said the government needed to do more on to ensure true progress.