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Coke fights a new consumer battle: Obesity

Screenshot from Coca-Cola's new commercial.

Coca-Cola started a new ad campaign this week -- and it’s very different from any of its previous ads. The largest soft-drink company on the planet has a new message. It wants to fight obesity. The new ads emphasize the company’s low-calorie drinks. It also shows you all the fun ways you can burn off the 140 calories in a can of Coke.

The first ad opens with vintage clips of old Coca-Cola commercials. A soothing voiceover reminds us of Coke’s 125-year history of bringing people together: “Today we’d like people to come together on something that concerns all of us: obesity.”

The problem with this ad, Tom Pirko says, is that it’s not going to make people choose healthier drinks. “Ads are great, they can be entertaining and informative, but essentially they don’t change the nature of consumption.”

Pirko is a consultant to the beverage industry. He says advertisements don’t necessarily dig deeply into our consciousness and change our behavior. “We have ad agency clients and they hate it when I say that to them.”

But, Pirko adds, this isn’t really about selling low-calorie products. “We’re dealing here with almost an existential issue. Coca-Cola has to be seen to be the good guy and it’s not a matter of admitting guilt or saying that it’s doing something wrong, with the new ad campaign. All it’s really doing is reaffirming that it’s with us.”

The ad also emphasizes low-calorie and zero calorie soft drinks as healthy alternatives. This concerns Jennifer Cassetta. “As a clinical nutritionist and holistic nutritionist, I don’t believe in those either. I don’t think that’s the solution.”

Coke has its own long history with diet drinks. This May is the 50th anniversary of Tab -- a soft drink Coke created for customers who want to keep tabs on their weight.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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