Coca-Cola's ad on its fight against obesity gets mixed reaction
Wed, January 23, 2013 at 18:33
Brad Spiegel in Jessica Matthews, News, Obesity, coca-cola, midtown, mike edge, shana martin

Earlier this month the Coca-Cola company aired a commercial that claims it wants to be part of the solution and not the problem when it comes to the obesity epidemic. 

It has already sparked a ton of interest. And even though many viewers are not sure how genuine the company is being, whether it will follow through and do what really needs to be done, and if the 2-minute spot was really just a disguised marketing and advertising ploy, they still have a strong opinion. 

The 125-year-old company that has more than 650 beverages, including Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Dasani water and scores of others, portrayed itself as now one of the companies doing the right thing. It says they “can play an important role.”

Coca-Cola said it can do that now by offering 180 low- or no-calorie options, producing smaller portion cans to control calorie intake, and has put the number of calories in the container on the front so the public knows how many they are consuming. 

It also says it is partnering with scientists and nutritionists to discovering new ways to limit calories, while it shows that it is a company that cares because it supports organizations like Boys Club and Girls Club of America. 


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But is this enough? 

Fitness professionals are definitely split. Many feel just getting the subject on the minds of Americans is a huge step. Others, understandably, believe Coca-Cola is just answering society’s pressure as obesity is a hot-button issue. They also wonder if Coca-Cola will do anything more substantial, like cutting high-calorie drinks all together and earmarking money for education on the pitfalls of high-sugar bevarages. 

“To me, my first impression was (the advertisement) is great because it is creating more conversation on physical activity and the obesity epidemic,” said Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. “If something like (the ad) brings attention to these areas, no matter how they do it, I believe it is a positive thing.” 

Shana Martin, Fitness director at Supreme Health and Fitness in Madison, Wisc., thinks what Coca-Cola is doing is spot on. 

“When I first saw it, and I still agree, the ad is brilliant. I don’t see a lot wrong with it, although I know many people don’t think so,” she said. 

“Anything we can do to explain what a calorie is, how to burn it … As (fitness) professionals it is easy to understand, but I think many people don’t understand.” 

Not everyone was sold, however. 

One IHRSA member feels she has a first-hand experience, outside of the people she sees at her gym, that gives her the perspective that the commercial certainly falls short. 

Karen Lankford, Members Sales & Service director at El Gancho Fitness, Swim & Racquet Club in Santa Fe, N.M., said her father is 350 pounds and drinks Diet Cokes all day, while her mother, who is also out of shape, sips on a 32- or 64-ounce soda throughout the day. 


“(Coca-Cola) can run an ad that says there are diet versions. I am not a medical researcher but in my own experience I don’t think diet or regular is the problem,” she said. “The news is all about the amount of sugar, but caffeine and carbonation are just not good for you (either). I know with my dad, (soda) is addictive. No one is saying anything about that.” 

“We are a generation that ‘Coke is life’ and ‘Coke is the real thing.’ They are not going to turn that around with a tiny, cute portion control bottle.” 

Lankford felt there was a lot in the ad relating to the company's recent image as one of the contributors of the problem of so many obese in the United States.

"When I saw the ad I was definitely thinking, OK, their marketing and PR departments are working overtime. There is definitely some self-preservation there."

While Joe White, a public relations associate for Midtown Athletic Clubs - which numbers 10 in Illinois, New York, Georgia, Florida, Kansas and Canada - felt the ad was “refreshing” in the company’s proactive stance, he can see how not everyone will see it that way. 

“I think as consumers we are all cynics. What’s the catch, a soft drink manufacturer is saying to limit yourself with our products?,” he said. “I think Coke is feeling the heat and even they know there are limits (on how much of it you should drink).”

"Coca-Cola wants us to consune as much of their products as we can. I think it is good that they tempering that by saying too much is not good for you." 

For some, the advertisement actually hit a very deep chord. Coach Mike Edge, Athletic director at The Arena Club in Bel Air, Md., said he will consider his actions, both personally and professionally. 

“The ad made me think a great deal,” he said. “Even with the companies we side with and deal with, I need to put myself in a position of making a difference. I, too, have to stand up and do something about it.” 

Alexandra Black, Health Promotions manager at IHRSA and a registered dietician, pointed out that the piece made it sound like all calories were similar and thus it is OK to consume a can of Coke, particularly this part of the ad: "All calories count. No matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories. And if you eat and drink more than you burn off, you'll will gain weight." 

Black noted that a 140-calorie Coke is certainly not the same as a banana and peanut butter with the same amount. She explained that it was but one example of misinformation. 

“For people trying to lose weight, hunger can be a challenge, especially at the beginning, and getting your calories from nutritious foods with fat, protein, and fiber will help reduce hunger and the desire to take in more calories,” she said. 

She was impressed with the effort by the company and that changing one thing is not a cure-all. 

“The first thing that stuck out in my mind was that Coca-Cola did a good job of promoting balance and recognizing that obesity isn't just a result of one, but many, things, and that's a good start.” 

Next week we will look into whether or not this is the first of many companies stepping forward and admitting they are contributing to the problem, what is next, and what can be done to fight the obesity epidemic.


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