New ad tells it all: For empty calories, Coke is it

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As awareness spreads that its products contribute to expanding waistlines, the Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest purveyor of sugary beverages, has a new strategy: suggesting that customers “earn” (i.e., burn) the calories in advance of consuming its product. Coke recently unveiled an online ad that asks: What if there was a new and fun way to pay for a coke? And by “new and fun,” the company means biking for 23 minutes to “earn” a Coke, burning off (on average, if you weigh 140 pounds) the 140 calories found in the 12-ounce can. Never before has soft drink advertising been so inadvertently confessional.

Indeed, it is a rare event when Coca-Cola acknowledges a soda’s caloric content in an ad, but its call to exercise, in order to justify consuming a nutritionally useless product, is a marketing non-starter. In fact, some in the advertising industry are calling the ad a disaster, criticizing the company for failing once again to address the nation’s obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 69 percent of adults are overweight or obese. And studies have repeatedly shown the role sugary drinks have played: Just one extra soda per day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent.

Consumers are finally taking note. The 128-year-old Coca-Cola company’s profit margins have been faltering in the midst of an increased awareness about soda’s role in the country’s obesity crisis, along with attempts by policy makers to crack down on sugary drinks through municipal taxes and size restrictions. The earn-a-Coke campaign feels like a way of acknowledging those concerns, but it ultimately backfires, since it essentially shows why one shouldn’t drink Coke. Hopefully, it will make more soda-drinkers wonder just how many calories they can save by skipping sugary drinks in the first place.