NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Coca-Cola became one of the world’s most powerful brands by equating its soft drinks with happiness. Now it’s taking to the airwaves for the first time to address a growing cloud over the industry: obesity.
The Atlanta-based company on Monday will begin airing a two-minute spot during the highest-rated shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in hopes of becoming a stronger voice in the intensifying debate over sodas and their impact on public health.
The ad lays out Coca-Cola’s record of providing drinks with fewer calories over the years and notes that weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind, not just soda.
Coca-Cola says the campaign will kick off a variety of moves that help address obesity in the year ahead, such as providing more diet options at soda fountains.
The company declined to say how much it was spending on the spots, which it started putting together last summer.
For Coca-Cola, the world’s No. 1 beverage company, the ads reflect the mounting pressures on the broader industry.
Last year, New York City’s Board of Health approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban super-sized sugary drinks.
The new regulation puts a 16-ounce limit on sugary drinks sold at city restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts and applies to both bottled and fountain drinks.
It does not include grocery or convenience stores that don’t serve prepared food and would not apply to diet soda, other calorie-free drinks or anything that has at least 50 percent milk or milk substitute.
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Bloomberg has said the ban is a way to fight obesity in New York City. He said health-related problems stemming from obesity cost the city about $4 billion a year.
“This has nothing to do with banning your ability to buy as many sugary drinks as you want, simply the size of the cup that can be used, it cannot be greater than 16 ounces under this regulation,” Bloomberg said last year.
The rules officially go into effect on March 12.
The mayor of Cambridge, Mass., has already proposed a similar measure, saying she was inspired by New York’s move.
And when PepsiCo Inc., the No. 2 soda maker, recently signed a wide-ranging endorsement deal with pop singer Beyonce, critics called for the singer to drop the contract or donate the funds to groups that fund health initiatives.
Coca-Cola said its ads aren’t a reaction to negative public sentiment. Instead, the idea was to raise awareness about what the company has done and the work it plans to do in coming months regarding obesity, said Stuart Kronauge, general manager of sparkling beverages for Coca-Cola North America.
“There’s an important conversation going on about obesity out there, and we want to be a part of the conversation,” she said.
In the ad, a narrator notes that obesity is an issue that “concerns all of us” but that people can make a difference when they “come together.” The spot was produced by Brighthouse and Citizen2 and is intended to reflect Coca-Cola’s corporate responsibility among cable news viewers.
Another ad, which will run later this week during “American Idol” and before the Super Bowl, is much more reminiscent of catchy, upbeat advertising people have come to expect from Coca-Cola. It features a montage of activities that add up to burning off the “140 happy calories” in a can of Coke with: walking a dog, dancing, sharing a laugh with friends and doing a victory dance after bowling a strike.
Diana Garza Ciarlante, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Co., said the 30-second ad, a version of which ran in Brazil last
month, is intended to address confusion about the number of calories in soda. She said the company’s consumer research showed people thought there were as many as 900 calories in a can of soda.
She noted that the company had to be careful with the ads to remain consistent with its brand voice and avoid sounding “preachy.”
Garza Ciarlante declined to give details on the actions Coca-Cola has planned for the year ahead. But among the options under
consideration is putting the amount of activity needed to burn off the calories in a drink on cans and bottles.
Coca-Cola noted it has already made several moves to help customers make smarter choices, such as putting calorie counts on the front of its cans and bottles in the U.S. Last year, it also started posting calorie information on its vending machines ahead of a
regulation that will require soda companies to do so by 2014.
Public concern over the calories in soda is clear in Coca-Cola’s changing business. In North America, all the growth in its soda business over the past 15 years has come from low- and no-calorie drinks, such as Coke Zero. Diet sodas now account for nearly a third of its sales in the U.S. and Canada. Other beverages, such as sports drinks and bottled water, are also fueling growth.
Even with the growing popularity of diet sodas, however, overall soda consumption in the U.S. has declined steadily since 1998, according to the industry tracker Beverage Digest.
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