Coca-Cola is on the offensive with its new ad campaign entitled
“It’s not our fault you’re fat” “Coming Together.” A two-minute web ad kicks off a marketing blitz designed to help address the problem of obesity … a problem caused in no small part by the company’s products. Apparently, the solution involves drinking a soda and going for a run. I hope Michelle Obama is taking notes. Watch:
Was that so hard? And you all thought obesity was a far-reaching, intractable issue with enormous social costs and no easy answers. Sillies!!
This is not about changing the products but about confusing the public … They are downplaying the serious health effects of drinking too much soda and making it sound like balancing soda consumption with exercise is the only issue, when there are plenty of other reasons not to consume too much of these kinds of products.
It’s not just the public health advocates who are skeptical about the new campaign. Even the advertising trade press is unimpressed. AdWeek called the ad “shameless,” “insidious,” and “surprisingly ham-fisted.” Meanwhile a marketing blog at the advertising trade publication MediaPost titled its review of the ad “Critics Jeer Coke’s Entrance into Obesity Discussion.”
But a bad reception from the business press isn’t likely to change Coke’s strategy. At this particular cultural moment, beverage companies are back on their heels and likely tired of being blamed for the obesity epidemic (with good reason, many public health experts would argue).
And maybe with its deep pockets and broad reach, Coke will pull off this whole “not-our-fault” strategy. That would be be good news for their food industry brethren who could soon find themselves in a similar situation. I’m thinking in particular of fast-food companies, who have certainly taken their lumps, but so far have managed to avoid the same kind of intense blame and government backlash for the obesity epidemic that soda companies now experience.
The reason is simple. Sure, too much fast food can make you fat — but the product itself is, in fact, food. It contains protein, carbs, even the odd vegetable. Say what you will about fast food, but those three items are necessary parts of the human diet; not so with soda.
But now comes new research just published in the medical journal Thorax which found a link between frequent fast-food consumption and the prevalence and severity of allergic conditions like asthma, eczema, and rhinitis in kids and teens. These results are preliminary, but if they hold up, fast food would appear to be a major contributing factor to the current “allergy epidemic” among kids across the globe.
Researchers analyzed data collected on the dietary habits of approximately 500,000 kids and teens worldwide. Teens who ate fast food three or more times a week saw their risk of severe asthma increase 39 percent; for younger children, that risk increased 27 percent. Both groups who ate that much fast food displayed increased severity of eczema and rhinitis.
These results persisted after researchers controlled for many “confounding” variables, including exercise, television watching, maternal education, and current maternal smoking. And while this finding remains a correlation, the scientists felt that the nature of the relationship, including the way it was consistent across the different age groups they studied, suggested it was likely a causal relationship. Nevertheless, as they say, further study is required!
Even so, if Coca-Cola’s campaign lays the template for successful Big-Food countermeasures, perhaps fast food has less to worry about than this research implies. I can see the ad campaign from Burger King already: “Breathe Easy. You Can Still Eat That Whopper.”
Get Grist in your inbox