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The Associated Press this morning is out with a story saying that while the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) has been saying that $1.5 million donated by Coca-Cola had no influence over its approach to combatting obesity, emails show that Coke "helped pick the group's leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website." Coca-Cola even influenced the design of the organization's logo, mandating that it not be blue - the color associated with its rival, Pepsi.

In exchange for the $1.5 million, the emails suggest, GEBN was willing to bend its approach and perspective on how to manage the obesity crisis, focusing on exercise rather than calorie consumption. And Coke was engaged in a level of micromanagement that has not been evident to this point.

The AP story notes that Coke, looking to minimize the public relations damage, has "accepted the retirement of its chief health and science officer, Rhona Applebaum, who initially managed the relationship with the group. It said it will not fill the position as it overhauls how it goes about its health efforts. It also said it has stopped working the Global Energy Balance Network." And CEO Muhtar Kent tells the AP that "it has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network ... Clearly, we have more work to do to reflect the values of this great company in all that we do."
KC's View:
With all due respect to my friends at Coke, this is not just a case of insufficient transparency ... it is a case of improperly exerting influence over an organization that is presenting itself as a scientifically objective resource. In doing so, both Coke and the GEBN manage to dilute their influence and credibility.

It's tough to get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak ... and this ought to be an object lesson to every company that thinks it can get away with this kind of stuff. You're gonna get caught, and it is gonna come back and bite you. And when that happens, it is going to hurt.

Nobody spends $1.5 million on anything without expecting results. And fealty. And even, sometimes, ethical flexibility.