Coca Cola’s new anti-obesity commercial is the worst commercial I have ever witnessed in my entire life – and for those of you who know me, this is saying something. The commercial is so awful because it is so incredibly deceptive and misleading. Coke begins by publicly acknowledging, for the first time ever, that there exists an obesity problem and then, for the remaining minute and 40 seconds, the company proceeds to portray itself as a problem-solver instead of what it is — the problem.
Let’s start with Coke’s statement that 30 percent of its beverages are low or no calories. The issue is not about how many calories a can of soda or any other sugar-sweetened beverage contains. It never was. These drinks could contain 200 calories or they could contain zero and they should still be avoided at all costs. Every single one of Coke’s soda products sold in the United States contains either high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame, both of which are dangerous to your health. In a long-term study published last year, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that men who drank more than one daily serving of regular or diet soda had a higher risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, a form of blood cancer. Another study from 2011 found that the additive is a carcinogenic agent in rodents.
As for Coke’s supposedly health-conscious offering of its more popular drinks in smaller containers, it’s hard to perceive this as something more than just a plug for a new product. As it happens, new products are more apt to get prime shelf space in grocery stores. According to Pulitzer Prize investigative journalist, Michael Moss, “[t]he main point of generating product line extensions is to win more space on the shelf. Store managers will give only so much room to any one product . . . .” So, by manufacturing new, smaller soda cans, Coke is ensuring that more of its product line covers the shelves. And lest we forget the industry’s outcry over Mayor Bloomberg’s new law banning the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages over 16 ounces in fast food chains, movie theaters, stadiums, restaurants, and delis in New York City. Coke’s attorneys even went so far as to file an amicus brief several months ago supporting a lawsuit against the ban.
And take Coke’s statement that it has “voluntarily changed its offerings to primarily water, juices, and no and low calorie options” in public schools. In reality, the USDA has already proposed a rule that would significantly change the nutritional quality of school lunches, including what would be allowable in school vending machines (show your support for the passage of this rule here). This would force companies such as Coca Cola to change their offerings anyway.
It is clear that Coca Cola’s new commercial is less of a proactive call to action in the fight against obesity than it is propaganda meant to distract us from the fact that Coke is a primary contributor to this epidemic. The ad attempts to appeal to concerned citizens that the company is acting responsibly when, in reality, it has fought heavily against those very solutions it touts. What’s more, while the company is concealing the truth behind its products it is simultaneously putting the onus on the consumer for America’s declining health.