The U.K.'s "Forum of Private Business" said it was "unacceptable to encourage workers to throw 'sickies' in order to sell a soft drink. A company of the standing of [VitaminWater owner] Coca-Cola should know better".
If there's one thing that small business employer groups seem not to understand, though, it's that advertisers expect them to react that way. Public denunciation generates more publicity for the campaign, which is why they produce these jokey spots in the first place.
The same thing happened in January 2009 when McNeil Healthcare posted a series of scripts on a Web site for the cold medicine Benylin that workers could use to call in sick. At the time, the "Federation of Small Businesses" (how many of these small business lobby groups are there?) condemned the campaign because it could cost firms "millions" as they scrambled in the recession.
VitaminWater's campaign uses the same premise. Bottle labels were printed with the message, "If you've had to use sick days because you've actually been sick, then you've been missing out ... The trick is to stay perky and use sick days to just, not go in." It goes on to give more specific advice about how to fake illness over the phone. (The company has also suggested VitaminWater is a hangover cure -- perhaps these campaigns are in some way related?)
Credit to Coca-Cola (KO) for not caving to tin-pot bosses. The company said:
We are not seriously suggesting people should call in sick when they are not and on pack we state, 'taking a sickie is very, very naughty.'Image by Flickr user lovecycle, CC.