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Each week in Ad Snacking, former advertising executive turned chef Eli Sussman takes a close look at a recent food advertisement. He’ll keep the copy short to guarantee the R.O.I. for procrastinating at your desk stays high.

In this week’s ad, Coca-Cola is going after the hearts, minds and wallets of America. For those who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, folks discussing the Bloomberg soda size controversy and those Americans gearing up for the Super Bowl (of gluttony) please know that not only is Coke is doing their part to help America get healthy (sort of) but it’s also as delicious as ever, available in smaller sizes and low-calorie forms! 

Coca-Cola has probably always considered themselves integral to helping America battle obesity and diabetes, because they are a gigantic evil multi-national with no soul and give a few million bucks to charity so they can sleep at night. Because that is what many huge food corporations do. They make a product that is usually unsafe or harmful to our health, and then they spend tons of money convincing the public that it’s wonderful and safe. This particular ad is hilarious because it’s so calming and sensitive while delivering completely manipulative information. It’s like your favorite aunt making a nice fire, tucking you under a blanket and making you hot cocoa while she casually mentions that it’s poisonous. 

So watch this ad with a discerning eye. Don’t let your brain and heart get clogged with saccharine nostalgia. 

Product: A
“We’d Like People To Come Together on Obesity.” As long as you agree coke has nothing to do with it.
I know we all hate math but let’s use the ad’s numbers for a minute. Out of 650 beverages (holy crap, that’s an insane amount of flavors) they offer 180 low and no-calorie choices. That leaves FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY high-calorie choices. 72% of their entire beverage portfolio is composed of super-sugary drinks. That means if you started now and drank one of Coca-Cola’s full-calorie drink items every day, you’d be done sampling in April of 2014. They are openly admitting — although in a backwards way — that nearly three-quarters of all the products they make are terrible for you.

I don’t know the last time I saw an Odwalla in a bodega, but I’m sure you can buy Coca-Cola via text message while having a diabetic heart attack without getting out of your ER bed. But we’re not yet discussing whether Coke is bad for you. We’re discussing whether Coke is delicious. Santa loves it, aliens love it, polar bears love it, God loves it, humans love it. Galaxy consensus. Coke is amazing. 

Message: B+
“Coke Brings People Together.” To get fat. Really, really fat. 
“All calories count. No matter where they come from.” Okay, Coke. Sure. But I bet that a panel of doctors will assure you that if you eat the exact same number of calories in the form of either Coca-Cola or steamed broccoli, the steamed broccoli is going to be a more healthy intake of those same quantity of calories. I’m not a doctor. I’m just not a fucking idiot. Everyone knows Coke is unhealthy, it’s liquid sugar.

Coke should be telling us with this commercial that they make a product that you should drink in small quantities while doing a ton of exercise and eating healthy foods. But instead they are dancing around the issue with the huge strides they’ve taken to combat obesity as a company. This is what we like to call a charade. Personally I love charades. The “cranking the old camera” movie hand motion is a blast. But in this charade, we are all playing along. Coke knows its product is awful, so they made 25% of their offerings low-calorie. We know Coke is terrible for us, but we don’t seem to care as we consume the 75% that is high-calorie. If you need me to elaborate, I’ll be locked in my bedroom drinking a 2-liter alone while eating a large pepperoni pizza and playing Xbox, a.k.a. being an American. 

Creativity: A+
“As The Nation’s Leading Beverage Company, We Can Play An Important Role.” Into manipulating you to feel guilty about being fat while buying our product
This ad had it all: Ethnic diversity, cute families, cool moving graphics with scientific percentage (Good arrows up! Bad arrows down!), old footage that made me all nostalgic for a time I wasn’t alive, a charitable component, a REAL doctor, kids jumping rope, a girls’ soccer game! A high school football game! Wow. That America porn montage was verging on being NSFW. 

Look, you don’t have to agree with the messaging, but you have to admit this ad is brilliant. To those that don’t watch ads with a true discerning eye (like…you know..everyone) this 2-minute community relations piece makes Coke look as if they are taking a responsible effort to fight obesity. It also doesn’t hurt that they associate the Coke logo with a diverse group of people partying, exercising and smiling. Makes Coke look kind of fun and delicious doesn’t it? 

Conclusion:
This ad doesn’t infuritate me to the level it has Mark Bittman or the folks at Mother Jones because this ad isn’t any more reckless and manipulative than thousands of other ads we’re assaulted with on a daily basis.

People go on about government regulation of sugars, state legislation of sizes, national education on obesity. But Coke is an opt-in product. Plenty of people will drink it. You’ll probably drink one this week. People who drink tons of Coke although they know the dangers but don’t care are idiots. To not be concerned about your own health is idiotic. But we are a culture of instant gratification, and an ice-cold Coke is mighty gratifying. You cannot blame Coke for making a manipulative ad to sell its product. That’s called “smart advertising,” in a free society with a capitalist economy. If op-ed critics and pundits think that a national corporation is going to run an ad making themselves look bad or culpable in a national health crisis…then perhaps I should re-assess who the idiots are in this scenario.

It’s terrifying people don’t care about their health or their future. We are all culpable. The problem is everyone and the problem is massive. If your head is spinning, I understand. So take a seat and a deep breath. Here, have a sip of this ice-cold Coke. See? Don’t you feel so much better?

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