Earlier this month, Coca-Cola released a two-minute advertisement called “Coming Together.”
The ad is lively, optimistic, and hopeful while it outlines how Coca-Cola can play a role in helping beat obesity. While we watch images of families, school children, Coca-Cola products, and happy Coke employees, the spot’s voice-over tells us how Coke has lowered its calories per serving by 22 per cent over the last 15 years.
She also cheerfully announces their plan to introduce “smaller, portion-controlled sizes for (their) most popular drinks” across the U.S by the end of 2013.
This is the first time Coke is taking note of the fact that many of its products are contributors
“The long term health of our families, and the country is at stake,” the ad proclaims. While it’s a nice step in health education and brand promotion, much larger steps are necessary to battle one of the biggest epidemics facing North America today.
According to Statistics Canada, almost a third of Canadians between the ages of five - 17 were overweight in September 2012, compared with 15 per cent in 1978. Statistics Canada predicts by 2040 up to 70 per cent of these children, by then adults, will
Last September, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a ban on the sale of sugary beverages, such as Coke, larger than 0.47 litres (16 oz.) at restaurants, movie theatres and stadiums. The ban could come in to effect as early as next month.
This is reminiscent of public smoking bans, which became popular in North America in the 1990s and 2000s (smoking in public places and workplaces was banned in Ontario in 2006). Smoking restrictions were a huge factor in decreasing the number of smokers in North America because it marginalized the activity. Bloomberg’s beverage restrictions could do the same to large-sized drinks.
From a marketing perspective, statements such as the one Coke makes in its new ad is a step in the right direction.
Michael Mulvey, professor of marketing at University of Ottawa, says it is no surprise that Coke is leading the way in this type of advertising.
“(Coca-Cola) understands its consumers better than most companies ever will,” says Mulvey. “Part of their culture is listening – they are listening to what customers say. They see what’s on the radar; they know what people’s concerns are.”
The obesity epidemic goes far beyond soft drinks and Coke products. People have been drinking Coca-Cola since the 19th century. But the impact and contribution to obesity of outrageous serving sizes now being used to distribute Coke and other similar products cannot be ignored.
In 1955, McDonald’s started selling Coke as a fountain drink in a 0.2 litre (seven oz.) cup. Today, the typical soda can is 0.35 litres (12 oz.). In the 1980s, 7-Eleven began its Big Gulp campaign and started offering a 0.95 litre (32 oz.), 1.4 litre (48 oz.), 1.89 litre (64 oz.), and even a 3.78 litre (128 oz.) cup size. Today, the standard soft drink cup size at McDonald’s is 0.62 litres (21 oz.).
The fast food or beverage industry can’t be blamed solely for North America’s obesity problem – but it isn’t helping.
“People don’t buy Coke because they think it’s healthy,” says Mulvey. “People buy Coke because they think it’s refreshing and it complements the taste of food – it’s a hedonic, pleasurable experience. Like most things, in moderation, that’s not a bad thing to have. Where it becomes problematic is where people are feeding themselves in an intravenous sort of way.”
The fact that Coke is making efforts to help people moderate their intake of carbonated beverages is a good thing. More moves like Bloomberg’s in New York need
While some will argue against government regulation on what we should and shouldn’t eat, the problem has grown to the point that it is time for them to take charge.
Carleton University social marketing professor David Hubka says there may be less adverse reaction to government intervention than one would expect.
“I think industries look to government to regulate them,” says Hubka. “A specific company like Coca-Cola may want to start moving into progressive types
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Perhaps in 10, 15 or 20 years, we will start talking about fast food the way we now talk about tobacco.
Cigarette advertisements from the 1960s can be shocking to watch. It can be hard to believe that at one time cigarettes were promoted with such disregard (and perhaps lack of knowledge) for the problems they cause.
Perhaps years from now the next generation will be watching and laughing at today’s fast food advertisements the way we giggle at bygone cigarette ads.
This social transformation must occur. The obesity epidemic is worse than the smoking epidemic for one reason: its biggest victims are children.
Childhood obesity is rampant, which ensures that this problem isn’t going away anytime soon – unless we take notes from Coca-Cola: drink lower-calorie drinks, consume smaller portions, and stay physically active. And of course, the one piece of advice they don’t – and won’t – give: drink it less often.
We don’t allow our children to be exposed to movies with coarse language or nudity; we constantly shield youngsters from sexuality, violence, drugs and alcohol. Yet we allow them to consume fast food and carbonated beverages.
The industry needs to change, and so do we – fast.