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editorial

Coke offers empty calories — and slogans

The best thing that can be said about Coca-Cola’s unusual new ad campaign is that it’s a sure sign the company is feeling the heat for its sugary drinks. In the face of growing criticism and a new ban on large full-calorie sodas in New York City, the company has launched ads acknowleding its products’ high sugar content and urging viewers to, as a press release put it, “have some fun burning those calories off.”

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The campaign’s first television ad, a two-minute spot, debuted on Monday. In Boston, the campaign also took the form of a billboard showing a can of Coke and 140 calories in big letters. The can’s sugary contents are no secret, the ad proclaimed.

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But Coke isn’t accused of keeping secrets. It’s accused of marketing a product that is contributing to the nation’s obesity crisis. The ad campaign is clearly an effort to change the subject, either by defending the company against nonexistent charges, or by shifting the focus to viewers and urging them to exercise more.

Yes, of course, exercising more is good advice. And yes, knowing how many calories a can of soda contains can be a useful piece of information, as long as consumers understand what it means and know the difference between 140 empty calories from Coke and 140 calories from nutrient-filled foods. But for anyone hoping for an ad campaign to spread that public-health message, Coke’s is not it.

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