Who Does Coca-Cola Think It’s Fooling?
“For 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together,” says the woman with the serene, reassuring voice behind the new Coca-Cola ad (below). Today, she claims, the big beverage company wants to “come together” with the rest of us on the issue of obesity and be part of the solution.
Come together? The real agenda behind the ad for Coca-Cola is to deny corporate responsibility and rather place blame squarely on the consumer. And it has an insidious way of going about it. “The word ‘chutzpah’ comes to mind,” writes Mark Bittman for the New York Times, “but that implies some kind of sincere arrogance. This video is sheer manipulation, calculated to confuse, obscure and deny.”
To start, the ad describes the ways in which Coca-Cola is working to be part of the solution to the obesity epidemic — by adding more low- and no-calorie options to its beverage portfolio, by introducing smaller, portion-controlled sizes, and by displaying calorie counts on the front of cans. The company also claims to have “voluntarily changed” what it sells in schools to waters, juices and low- and no-calorie options.
In a video released as a response to the Coca-Cola ad (below), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offers to translate: “By voluntarily changed, we mean after parents, school boards, and state laws kicked sugary drinks out of schools.” As for the smaller sizes now available in many parts of the country? CSPI’s translation: “We spent millions fighting portion control and taxes in New York, but we see the writing on the wall.”
At any rate, Coca-Cola means to argue that it has done its part by providing us with diet (though artificially sweetened) sodas and more reasonable portions, so the blame for obesity can only lie with consumers who aren’t making the right choices. The fact remains, however, that sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest contributor of calories in the American diet and that Coca-Cola and the rest of the industry are doing what they can to make sure that that does not change. (The good news is that they’re starting to lose that battle, with sales on the decline.)
“Beating obesity will take action by all of us,” the ad declares. Yet, as Deborah Kotz writes for the Boston Globe, as “images of kids exercising flash on the screen,” this is the implication: “Don’t blame sugar-sweetened beverages; blame video games, television, and too much sitting around.” Meanwhile, another new Coca-Cola ad is designed to show what fun it can be to exercise after sipping “140 happy calories.” The message: life is best enjoyed by drinking our sugary beverages and having the time of your life working off the extra calories.
Besides, the ad goes on to argue, “all calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories.” All calories do count, but they are not all the same. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times’s Mark Bittman: “Different calories have different metabolic fates in the body. Those from fructose overwhelm the liver, forcing the pancreas to make more insulin and driving more energy into fat cells. And soda is nothing but a fructose delivery system.” In other words, calories from a Coke aren’t exactly nourishing.
I accept that personal responsibility plays a part in America’s obesity epidemic and that many millions of Americans are choosing to drink more soda than they should. But there’s no denying the chutzpah of this new ad from Coca-Cola. The pure disingenuousness of it. Coca-Cola joining arms with the rest of us to fight obesity? As Marion Nestle put it, “Oh, please.”
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