Apparently Coke Thinks You Are Stupid

by Dana Woldow, 2013-01-16

We interrupt the regularly scheduled news story about the farm bill to bring you this breaking news - Coca Cola must think you are stupid. How else to explain their new ad campaign which recommends that consumers just laugh off the empty calories in their daily sodas, as a strategy to fight obesity? In the "Can't make this stuff up" category, this bizarre PR effort to rebrand Coke as actually caring about its customers' health should win some kind of award.

According to the company's website, Coke is "taking a stand against obesity" with two new ads. The first ad, called "Coming Together", was introduced on January 14th via spots on major cable news networks Fox, CNN and MSNBC. According to the New York Times, this ad was aimed at policy makers, who the company apparently feels get their information from prime time cable news. The belief that such viewers are mathematically challenged is the only plausible explanation for the ad's barrage of numbers masquerading as compelling data, such as the factoid that of 650 products Coke makes, 180 are low or no calorie, including low calorie versions of most of their best selling products. As the ad claims, "Over the last 15 years, this has helped reduce the average calories per serving across our industry's products in the US by about 22%."

But 180 of 650 products works out to only a little over one quarter of products being reduced calorie, and a mere 22% reduction in calories over a decade and a half is hardly anything to crow about. What's more, according to the NY Daily News, virtually all of the company's growth in North America over those same 15 years has come from the sale of these reduced calorie choices, so it is more than a little disingenuous for Coke to try to spin their expansion into this market as motivated by their desire to reduce obesity. Reduce their own losses is more like it.

As further proof of its belief that cable news viewers are fools, Coke's "Coming Together" ad also claims that the company now lists calorie counts on the front of its products "to help make it even easier for people to make informed decisions." Apparently we are too dumb to think to turn the can around to find the calorie count on the back, where it has resided since the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 gave the Food and Drug Administration specific authority to require nutrition labeling on most food packages. A 12 ounce can of regular Coke has 140 calories.

What's that? You aren't a policy maker and don't watch cable news, so Coke's "You're stupid" message isn't getting through to you? Not to worry - they have a version intended for "regular consumers" too, which will debut tonight during "American Idol", and will also air before the Superbowl, so you too will have your chance to be insulted by Coke's pitch. The New York Times reports that this second ad focuses on "the calories in a can of soda and offering ideas about how to work them off, like walking the dog for 25 minutes, doing a victory dance or even laughing."

Apparently the idea that soda lovers can easily shed pounds via laughter is based on a 2004 study by Vanderbilt University Medical Center researcher Maciej Buchowski, Ph.D., who called his own research "trivial." He found that by increasing energy expenditure and raising heart rate, 10 to 15 minutes of sustained laughter could burn between 10-40 calories a day, depending on the metabolism of the laugher. However, Buchowski was quick to point out, "People can't eat at McDonald's and then expect to laugh away their lunch."

As Michele Simon, public health lawyer and president of Eat Drink Politics, an Oakland consulting firm, says, "It's pretty surprising that a marketing-savvy, multinational corporation such as Coca-Cola could release such an insipid ad and expect the American public to be duped into thinking it's out of the goodness of their hearts. Let's see through this for it is: a self-serving PR move designed to distract attention away from the chronic disease epidemic to which Coke's products contribute."

Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at PEACHSF.org. Follow her on Twitter @nestwife.