CrossFit’s “Open Diabetes” ad does it all wrong

By Lincoln Rinehart


CrossFit #socialfail Case Study

CrossFit is a fitness program started by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000. The program offers high-intensity interval fitness training to members of over 13,000 participating gyms. Recently CrossFit has associated itself with issues involving the state of health and wellbeing of Americans, namely increasing health concerns due to excessive weight gain.

On June 29, 2015 CrossFit began a campaign to promote awareness of the correlation between excessive sugar intake, subsequent weight gain and higher risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. The promotion was in the form of a Tweet with a picture of a modified Coca-Cola ad with the line “open diabetes” and a quote from Greg Glassman, CEO of CrossFit. The quote was: “Make sure you pour some out for your dead homies.”


Key insights to the CrossFit diabetes campaign

The Tweet and quote garnered hundreds of replies from members and affiliates of the diabetic community stating that the ad is misinforming its audience. There is no evidence to claim that diabetes is caused by excessive sugar intake, but the ad could imply otherwise. Excessive sugar intake can lead to weight gain which does correlate with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, but CrossFit missed the target on that association. People replied saying that the company was ignorant, uninformed, shameful, in poor taste, etc. The Huffington Post published an article that aggregated the issues of political correctness involved in this advertisement.

Rather than apologizing or removing the Tweet CrossFit continued to enforce its stance on diabetes and soda consumption. In some cases the company Tweeted rude or sarcastic comments directly at insulted users.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 1.43.22 PM

Source: CrossFit Twitter page


Musician Nick Jonas is a type 1 diabetic and expressed his outrage with the campaign via Twitter as well by calling CrossFit’s comments “ignorant.” According to an article on The Russells Matt Knox from “Good Morning America” contacted Greg Glassman, CEO of CrossFit, in order to receive a response to Jonas’ Tweets. Glassman responded with the quote below.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 2.33.27 PM


The advertisement and quotes by Glassman were obviously very controversial. Many of the users who replied negatively to this advertisement simply wanted CrossFit to clarify that diabetes is not directly caused by consuming sugar, but increased weight gain can lead to a higher risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. In more recent versions of the campaign CrossFit does at least clarify that they are talking about type 2 diabetes.


Why the CrossFit “Open Diabetes” ad was a #socialfail

I think it should be pretty obvious that no advertisement should ever insult any potential consumers. With that being said, there is statistical evidence supporting the correlation between excessive weight gain and having a higher risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. CrossFit attempted to support a worthy cause, but did so in a very offensive manner. They sparked a powder keg with the initial advertisement, and then continued to fuel the flame by replying to upset consumers with sarcasm and blatant insults. The issue would have been partially avoided if CrossFit accepted its mistake and removed the advertisement. Without doubt the most harmful element of this #socialfail is the method that CrossFit and Glassman took in addressing the reasonable public concerns toward the ad with stubbornness and insensitivity.

Instead of prolonging the issue and continuing to offend its audience CrossFit could have made a simple apology and removed the advertisement. Then they could have replaced it with a similar ad that clarifies that they are referring to type 2 diabetes and the increased risk consumers face through gaining excessive weight. Doing so would mend much of the offense taken from the original ad and also continue to raise awareness of type 2 diabetes. Advertisements are meant to inform, or at the very least spark informed discussion, not perpetuate ignorance.



CrossFit Twitter. (2015, Nov 30). [Tweet]. Retrieved  from

Glassman, Greg. (2015, June 29). [Tweet]. Retrieved        from

Greenberg, Riva. (2015, July 6). People Disgusted by CrossFit’s ‘Open Diabetes’ Coke    Tweet. Huffington Post.  Retrieved from  greenberg/people-disgusted-by-cross_b_7721848.html

Greene, Russ. (2015, July 7). Greg Glassman’s Full Comment on Coca-Cola and Nick  Jonas. The Russells. Retrieved from  glassmans-full-comment-on-coca-cola-and-nick-jonas/

Jonas, Nick. (2015, June 30). [Tweet]. Retrieved from

(2015, July 2). Nick Jonas Chides CrossFit Over Diabetes Tweet; Company Fires Back. ABC  News. Retrieved from  diabetes-tweet-company-fires/story?id=32172324



4 thoughts on “CrossFit’s “Open Diabetes” ad does it all wrong

  1. Lincoln,

    Would it influence your opinion, perchance, to learn that one outcome of the Open Diabetes post was a NY Times expose of Coca-Cola?

    And what if you learned that Coca-Cola’s relationship ended with several major health organizations following that story, including the American College of Cardiology and the American Academy of Pediatric Physicians? Would that affect your views?


  2. Russ,

    I don’t mean to attack the semantics of the underlying argument that gaining weight leads to health issues. My main problem with the “open diabetes” advertisement is that it is very misleading to it’s audience.

    The outcome of the ad might have had a negative influence on how Coke is represented as a brand and a positive influence on how it is consumed by customers, but it was ultimately a #socialfail because it damaged any trust consumers might have had with the CrossFit brand. The post was made by CrossFit, and for all intended purposes the brand failed at motivating people to be healthier (and do CrossFit).

    The NY Times article was an interesting read; thanks for sharing!


    • You’re assuming that this post’s purpose was to drive clients into CrossFit gyms. It was not. Coke and Pepsi were funding an effort to make our gyms and trainers illegal. Stopping that scheme was the priority. Our post drew the attention and support of public health activists who have proven to be loyal and effective allies in the fight against Big Soda-sponsored “science.” Before posting, we knew and accepted the risk of offending those who didn’t understand it, or who had commercial ties to Coke and Pepsi. We’ve significant progress since, so much so that it’s not worth trying to convince you that the Open Diabetes post worked. If you don’t believe me, just watch.


      • I simply meant to point out that the original advertisement could have been altered in a way that is not offensive toward the diabetic community and also meets your company goals (whether or not those goals consist of gaining support against big-soda companies or gaining awareness of the CrossFit brand).

        You also could have managed customer relations in a way that would not directly insult people, but would still get your point across.


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