Coca-Cola’s New Ad: Coming Together for Empty Calories

Coca-Cola launched a new commercial in the U.S. today called “Coming Together.” It’s a calculated communication to address declining sales for sugar-laden drinks, an attempt to change the message away from one of blame for the obesity crisis to one about being part of the solution.

You can’t blame Coca-Cola for trying, given how soft drinks have been vilified as a key driver in behind the obesity epidemic. Last fall, New York City was the first to ban the sale of large sizes of soft drinks and Washington D.C. is considering the same move. The Real Bears video by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest that went viral last October was another shot across the bow, linking excess sugar consumption from soft drinks to obesity and nasty complications from diabetes.

Group-hug imagery from past ads was just feel-good puffery. Who could quibble with teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony on a mountaintop? But the key message in this new ad that has obesity experts up in arms, is this one:

“All calories count. No matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories. And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you’ll gain weight.”

Ruth Faden, the Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics writes in The Atlantic that this statement by Coca-cola is “unconscionable:”

“For Coca-Cola to suggest that all calories are equal flies in the face of reality as best as we can determine it. Many foods and drinks contain calories but also nutritional value; these are the calories that fuel our daily lives. Added sugars like those in Coca-Cola, however, add calories but no nutrition– so-called “empty calories.” According to the Food and Drug Administration, “In some foods, like most candies and sodas, all the calories are empty calories.” So, Coca-Cola’s claim that “all calories count” is extraordinarily misleading.”

Obesity is a multi-faceted crisis and winning the war requires an understanding about how to attack it on all fronts. Calories do come from everywhere and yes, of course we are also personally responsible for what we choose to consume. But all calories are not equal – some have nutritional value and some are just, well, extra.

There is another new ad to be launched this week, which according to the LA Times will promote the idea that it’s okay to consume a 140-calorie size because you can have fun working it off.

But those fewer calories are still empty calories. And added sugar is still added sugar that fuels your cravings for more.


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