In the 1980s, Coca-Cola used the advertising slogan “Have a Coke and a Smile” to boost sales. These days, it’s more like “Have a Coke and Hit the Gym.” For years the major soft drink company has avoided (or even denied) charges that swigging sugary beverages can pack on the pounds. In light of our nation’s obesity epidemic, the head honchos at Coke have revamped the brand’s advertising, with a focus on how to incorporate Coca-Cola products into a healthy lifestyle.
What’s the Deal?
This year, expect to see TV ads that highlight The Coca-Cola Company’s dedication to keeping Americans healthy and preventing obesity. In the “Coming Together” ad, a voice-over explains how Coke promotes health by reducing calories in many of their products, created smaller serving sizes for healthier soda consumption, and putting the calories per serving in plain sight on the front of the can. Coca-Cola is planning to run the commercial during popular time slots on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and yes, the Super Bowl. Other two-minute slots feature scenes of people burning off the “140 happy calories” in each can by doing fun activities like walking the dog, dancing, or laughing with friends.
Focusing on low-calorie options isn’t news. During the past 15 years in North America, Coke has seen an overall decline in consumption but growth among diet products like Diet Coke and Coke Zero. In 2010, 21 percent of women and 19 percent of men in the U.S. regularly drank diet beverages. Americans seem unwilling to give up sodas, even as they reach for diet and zero-calorie versions.
After over a century as America’s #1 soda, Coke is finally acknowledging the health ramifications of its soft drinks. In the past few months, Coke has faced adversity in the form of a sharp critique from an official statement from the Surgeon General and NYC governor Michael Bloomberg’s big soda ban. Coke’s reaction has been to embrace the health and fitness mindset of its consumers, while still making the classic red can relevant. For example, in the fall of 2012 Coke released the Work It Out calorie calculator, an app that tells people how long to exercise to burn off the calories in each Coke product.
Is It Legit?
Partly. The Coca-Cola Company’s efforts to frame its products within a healthy, balanced lifestyle are part of a larger trend among American food companies. Other corporations traditionally associated with unhealthy food, like Frito-Lay and McDonald’s, have launched new products and labels to revamp their balanced diet reputations. As a general indication of our nation’s needs, these new campaigns can be seen as beneficial — if huge corporations are paying attention and making changes to combat obesity, it means that awareness and possible solutions are on the rise. But does advertising a product as “healthy” make it so?
By pointing out how Coca-Cola has reduced calories in its products over time and scaled down the size of cans, the ad implicitly announces that soft drinks aren’t healthy, and that being healthy means drinking less soda.
Bottom line? The new Coca-Cola commercials show how soda can be part of a balanced diet and explain how overall lifestyle choices (whether bad or good) can contribute to overall health. But the ads don’t dissipate the elephant in the room, which is that the easiest way to avoid the health drawbacks of too much soda is to stop drinking soda.
Do you think Coca-Cola's new commercials will help fight obesity in America? Tell us what you think in the comments below or tweet the author at @SophBreene.
Video by CocaColaCo