Coca-Cola jumped on the bandwagon to fight obesity on Monday when it started airing a new two-minute commercial during the highest-rated programs on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. The spot appears to be in response to a recent study that suggested sugary drinks, including sodas, can cause people to gain weight.
While the ads clearly communicate that Coca-Cola has long been providing sugar-free and lower calorie drinks, and that weight gain is caused by consuming too many calories of any kind – not just sodas – the broader message the world’s top beverage company seems to be conveying is that its products can actually fit in with a healthy lifestyle, as opposed to contributing to the obesity epidemic.
It should be no surprise that Coca-Cola wants to send such a message, especially with today's increasingly health-conscious consumer. Then there's news that New York City is scheduled to be the first state in the nation to limit the size of soft drinks sold at restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and other venues. A similar measure has also been proposed by the mayor of Cambridge, Mass., who says she was inspired by New York's move.
The recent study, which may be fueling other companies to take a more pro-active approach to health, suggested that sugary drinks cause people to pack on the pounds. The study involved over 33,000 Americans and was conducted over a period of several decades. According to the study, consuming sugary beverages, such as sodas, interacts with genes affecting weight – increasing a person’s risk of weight gain, regardless of any genetic predisposition to obesity they may already have.
Mike Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Associated Press he was skeptical about the intent behind Coca-Cola's ads. "It looks like a page out of damage control 101," he said. "They're trying to disarm the public."
For its part, Coca-Cola said its ads aren't a reaction to negative public sentiment. Rather, they’re intended to raise awareness about lower-calorie drinks and what it plans to do in coming months, according to the company’s G.M. of sparkling beverages Stuart Kronauge in North America.
The commercial that started airing today says that obesity is an issue that "concerns all of us" but that people can make a difference when they "come together." Produced by Brighthouse and Citizen 2, the spot is supposed to reflect Coca-Cola's corporate responsibility among cable news viewers.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola says it has already made several moves to help customers make better, healthier choices, including labels that show calories and other nutritional information on its beverages.
Ironically, the bulk of Coca-Cola’s growth over the last 15 years is due to its low- and no-calorie sodas, such as Coke Zero, which doesn’t contain any sugar or calories at all.