Everything that’s wrong with Coke’s new anti-obesity campaign

Kirsten Drysdale writes.

When I first saw the Coca-Cola™ Corporation had put out a new ad titled “Coming Together”, I thought “Huzzah! Finally, soft-drink makers are endorsing the joys of mutual orgasm!”.

Alas, my delight was but a cruel portent for yet another shattered soda dream.

No, Coca-Cola doesn’t much care for extended foreplay or tantric sex*. Although they might, if it could be proved that such activity could help people lose weight. (Hit me with your relevant papers, hump-nerds.) You see, “Coming Together” is in actual fact an anti-obesity PSA.

That number again – the world’s biggest soft-drink manufacturer is running an ad about all the good stuff they’re doing to fight the obesity epidemic.

Yep – it’s a US ad. But hey, with the exception of Cuba and North Korea - the only two countries in the world where you can’t (officially) buy or sell Coca-Cola now – we are all global devotees of The Real Thing. Watch it yourself if you have ample reserves of insulin.

And now, the breakdown:

“For over 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together,” it begins, a woman’s husky voice drizzled over delicate piano music and colour-faded footage from the Coke Times of Yore: a man in a white coat pours Our Beverage straight from a bar tap, a 1950s housewife doing the groceries puts a pack of it into her trolley (her kids are stoked), a fully loaded delivery truck pulls out of the depot. (Man, how cool were those old red trucks, right!? Nostalgia, yo. Oh, pardon me – my nipples just leaked a little oxytocin.

[Side note: Freeze frame two seconds into the clip, and that loopy white-on-red logo has already been on screen a dozen times.]

A skinny white girl at the beach skips over to a bin, clutching a bunch of empty plastic Coke bottles to her breast. She is suspiciously happy for someone engaged in rubbish disposal.

“Today, we’d like people to come together on something that concerns all of us – obesity.” You must be kidding me, lady.

Next up we have a United Colors of Benetton montage of smiling rainbow stock model faces, followed by a shot of someone nudging the weights on a swing arm scale in a downward direction.

“The long term health of our families, and of the country is at stake, and as the nation’s leading beverage company we can play an important role.”

Nope, she’s not joking. Her voice is hypnotic. It sounds like she’s just injected post-mix syrup directly into her tonsils, then swallowed her performance fee in rusty five-cent pieces. It has a very unique timbre. I hope she was paid well.

“Across our portfolio of 650 beverages, we now offer over 180 low and no-calorie choices. And most of our full-calorie beverages now have low- or no-calorie versions.”

Cue shot of VitaminWater Zero™ being neatly stacked on a fridge shelf. This is the sugar-free iteration of “Vitamin Water”, which incidentally was the subject of a lawsuit against Coca-Cola brought by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. (You see, the CSPI is an organisation that thinks you should name things appropriately. That’s why it called itself the “Centre for Science in the Public Interest” rather than the “Centre for Maypole Emancipation and Dugong Portraiture”.)

Anyhow, the CSPI’s beef with “Vitamin Water” is that its marketing suggests the product contains a decent measure of nutrients and is good for you. As opposed to containing 33 grams of sugar, water, and a constipated fairy’s shit of “synthetic vitamins”. (That is what “Vitamin Water” is, friends.) Here’s the best part though: In court, attempting to have the lawsuit dismissed, Coca-Cola’s defence lawyers argued that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage”. They said the claims on the label were just “puffery”, and that “the sweet taste of vitaminwater puts consumers on notice that the product contains sugar”. (The judge said “GTFO, Coke. This case will proceed”. Or something like that. What a legend.)

I’ve gone down a bullshit rabbit hole. Forgive me. On with the fat-fighting “puffery”:

“Over the last 15 years, this has helped reduce the calories per serving across our industry’s products in the US by about 22 per cent. We’ve created smaller portion-controlled sizes for our most popular drinks, and we’ll have them in about 90 per cent of the country by the end of this year.”

Well, blow me sideways. Coca-Cola are all for realistic portion sizes! Don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re suing New York City over Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s coming ban on monster size soft drinks. Coke absolutely shares the common sense view that no one other than Farva really needs a litre of cola in one hit. (No word yet on how they’ll respond in Australia to calls by health groups for the government to introduce a tax on sugary drinks.)

“We’ve added the calorie content of all our beverages on the front, to help make it even easier for people to make informed decisions.”

Thank you for doing our sums for us. See, there’s evidence that our hideously poor modern diets have contributed to our lower IQs, and we find it real hard to even just count all the way to Z now.

“For elementary, middle and high schools, our industry has voluntarily changed its offerings to primarily to waters, juices, and low- or no-calorie options. This has helped to reduce the calories from our industry’s beverages in those schools by 90 per cent since 2004.”

Aww, thinking of the children purely out of the goodness of your tender corporate hearts! Knock off that final 10 per cent and my money’s on beatification. (Aussie kids, don’t fret - it’s unlikely your school vending machine is about to be confiscated. In response to calls to restrict the distribution of soft drink in schools, Australian Beverage Council CEO Geoff Parker pointed out how much you’re relying on those kilojoules to fuel your learning: “Let's not forget as well, these drinks do contain energy and that's exactly what kids need to run around particularly in high schools”. He makes a valid point. I mean, what would you consume without them – sandwiches or something?)

“We support clubs like the boys and girls club of America, that encourage people to get active and start healthy habits early. Leading is also about new thinking, which is why we will continue to work with scientists and nutritionists on things like zero-calorie all-natural sweeteners.”

Guys, you’ve made a booboo. Won’t the “sweet taste” be a sign to the consumer that a product is full of sugar? You were literally just saying this in court! (Sugar - I notice it’s a word you haven’t used once in your two-minute showcase of autofellatio, despite it being a fairly key ingredient in your flagship product. Was that a deliberate choice?)

“But beating obesity will take action by all of us, based on one simple common sense fact. All calories count. No matter where they come from. Including Coca-Cola, and everything else with calories.”

But remember – calories that come from Coke are the most delicious calories of all! Check out this beautiful shot – a dozen flawless glass bottles filled with black-brown bubbly stuff, lined up proud in a rustic wooden crate, logos turned uniformly frontward - an art-directed drill parade of Type 2 Diabetes potion.

“And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you’ll gain weight.”

Picture me as an arctic seal. I am furiously clapping.

“The well-being of our families and communities concerns everyone, and finding a solution will take continued effort from all of us. But at Coca-Cola, we know that when people come together, we can make a real difference.”

I discussed this ad with a friend. He didn’t think it was as awful as I clearly do. He said: “I just feel like it can’t be a bad thing having a huge company telling people not to be such fat bastards all the time, and they should watch their calories, even if their motives are profit driven.” I said: “I wouldn’t have such a problem with it if it was say, Nike. At least they sell sportswear, not a product that is directly linked to the societal problem they are claiming to address.”

“To learn more, visit coke.com/comingtogether.

No thanks, Coke. I prefer to come on my own.

*To my knowledge. Who knows what lies behind the twinkle in that jolly old St Nick’s eye?


Kirsten has worked on Hungry Beast, The Gruen Transfer and an upcoming consumer affairs show for the ABC. Follow her on Twitter @KirstenDrysdale.

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1 comments so far..

  • Whatangdid's avatar
    Date and time
    Friday 18 Jan 2013 - 12:58 PM
    BRILLIANT. HIlarious and poignant. How all journalism should be! Best column I've read on The Vine in a long while.
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