Coca-Cola removes 'mum' and 'bub' packaging after backlash

Coca-Cola has stopped the production of all multipack cans with the words 'bub' next to 'mum' on the cardboard packaging after outrage among health professionals, Newshub can reveal.

The 18-can packs say 'share a coke' on the packaging along with 'bub' and 'mum' on the side, sparking backlash for the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) who wrote to Coca-Cola last week.

Auckland University marketing expert Bodo Lang was also baffled at the summer marketing campaign and suggested Coca-Cola recall the products.

"Some consumers are disagreeing with the messaging here and I think they're rightly disagreeing with messaging because 'bubs' - small infants - should not be drinking Coca-Cola or any other sugary beverage in their sucker bottles," he told Newshub.

He says it was irresponsible advertising and all 'share a coke' products should be pulled from shelves.

"By withdrawing the message and stopping production, Coca-Cola could regain some of the loss in terms of brand equity since some people will be rightly angry."

Coca-Cola says the company wanted to use "pet names" and "terms of endearment" on the packaging but acknowledged the confusion that came with having the two words next to each other. A Coca-Cola Oceania spokesperson says while 'bub' can be used across all age groups, the word being next to 'mum' may have puzzled people.

"We are disappointed that this oversight was made as we have a long-standing commitment to responsible marketing," the spokesperson says.

"As of today [Thursday], we will stop the production of all multipack cans which have 'bub' next to 'mum' on the cardboard wrap packaging. To ensure this doesn't happen again we will do a deep dive on our approvals process and identify where this has fallen down."

Coca-Cola says it asked Kiwis for suggestions of popular nicknames to use in its campaign and received responses including Bub, Babe, Beau, Lover, Hun, Honeybun, Sweetheart, and Sweetie-pie.

"We acknowledge the confusion and upset our multipack cans cardboard wrap packaging may have caused by having 'bub' next to 'mum,'" says the spokesperson.

The NZDA is now applauding Coca-Cola for taking a positive step.

"Well done to Coke for heeding the concern of the Dental Association and numerous other health organisations around New Zealand," spokesperson Robert Beaglehole told Newshub. "Hats off to Coca-Cola for being proactive in this measure."

Dr Beaglehole.
Dr Beaglehole. Photo credit: The AM Show

But Dr Beaglehole agrees with Lang the product should be completely recalled.

He says the company's decision to conduct a review is important since some of their marketing may be "unduly influencing certain members of society".

"It would be perfectly good of them to get rid of any te Reo Māori names in this because Māori, in particular, consume a lot more sugary drinks than the rest of the population."

Dr Beaglehole says Māori and Pasifika people are "decimated" which makes them more prone to tooth decay as well as type two diabetes and obesity.

"The sugary drink consumption is a socio-economic issue and it's something that Coca-Cola and other sugary drink companies need to be mindful of so that they don't specifically target vulnerable members of the community."

Dr Beaglehole and the NZDA are open critics of Coca-Cola. Earlier this month, he slammed New Zealand director and filmmaker Taika Waititi for directing the company's Christmas advertisement. 

"I felt sick to my stomach," he said of the ad.

"It's a very powerful ad and very clever, and I felt like writing a letter to Taika saying how disappointed I was - particularly from the Māori health equity perspective."