Coca-Cola said the advertisements are meant to be funny.
One label on a Vitaminwater bottle said "vitamins + water = all you need." A display said "flu shots are so last year" and promised more immunity and "less snotty tissues."
Consumers "can clearly see from the labels, which are FDA compliant, what's in every bottle," Coca-Cola said in a statement. "Vitaminwater has always had a fun, humorous and engaging personality -- and our ads reflect that."
Much of the marketing from Glaceau, the Vitaminwater parent company that Coca-Cola bought in 2007, is tongue-in-cheek, said John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest. Most consumers are intelligent enough to know that ads claiming flu shots are unnecessary shouldn't be taken literally, he said.
Still, the National Consumers League wants Coca-Cola to pay for a round of corrective advertising to encourage people to take their flu shots. Greenberg said the company's argument that the ads are supposed to be taken with a wink is "totally unacceptable."
"For a company to make advertising claims and then say don't believe it ... that's a complete cop-out and completely unacceptable," she said.
Vitaminwater was also dinged recently in the United Kingdom when a self-regulating advertising group said an ad incorrectly implied that all the added ingredients in Vitaminwater are beneficial.