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I really dislike this ad:

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To be more succinct, the ad itself is technically sound. It probably fulfills the requirements of the brief that was written by marketing. It’s the message that bothers me immensely. Let’s break it on down.

“The right direction” – To me, this implies that you’re heading to the correct place—a good place. I have to disagree. Before I go on, I’m not here to try and convince you to stop drinking Diet Coke. You’re a grown-up, I’m assuming, and can make your own decisions. Hell, I ate half a pie yesterday! And if you’re not a grown-up, but a mere child, then good reading, buddy!

Here are some factoids about Diet Coke and other artificially-sweetened soft drinks that I got off of Wikipedia. I’m not a journalist; I did not do in depth research to write this post. I am, however, interested in preserving my health as much as I can (I mean, within reason, eating half a pie notwithstanding), so even if the findings are somewhat iffy, they still have serious enough implications that I choose to heed their warnings:

“Studies in cattle and rats suggest that artificial sweeteners cause body weight gain, theoretically because of a faulty insulin response. Rats given sweeteners have steadily increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity (fatness). Adding saccharin to the food of calves increases their body weight as well.”

“A study of almost 60,000 pregnant Danish women found that preterm birth was more common in women who drank diet soda than in those who drank sugar-sweetened soda. The study was not designed to establish a cause and effect relationship.”

“In an independent study by researchers with the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, soda consumption correlated with increased incidence of metabolic syndrome. Of the 9,000 males and females studied, soda drinkers were at 48% higher risk for metabolic syndrome, which involves weight gain and elevated blood sugar. No significant difference in these findings was observed between sugary sodas and diet drinks. The researchers noted that diet soda drinkers were less likely to consume healthy foods, and that drinking diet soda flavored with artificial sweeteners more than likely increases cravings for sugar-flavored sweets.”

“The sodium benzoate was found to break down mitochondrial DNA in living yeast cells. Research published in 2007 for the British government’s Food Standards Agency suggests that sodium benzoate (E211) is linked to hyperactive behavior and decreased intelligence in children. In January 2008 sodium benzoate was removed from production lines for Diet Coke sold in the UK, however it remains in other Coke products and other production locations.”

Back to the ad. How, with all that’s been learned about the product, can Coca-Cola conscientiously say that it’s a sip in the right direction? When Honest Tea used that line to sell their organic, fair trade, antioxidant-rich bottled iced teas, OK, it was a little more believable. But Diet Coke? The right direction? I call so much sweet fizzy bullshit. Incidentally, my tweet to Coca-Cola asking this question has yet to be answered.

So why does this bother me so much? It is because of what they are trying to sell. Coke is one of those products, the desire for which, is completely manufactured. Babies do not emerge from the birth canal keening for cola, for example. It is a taste that does not resemble anything from nature. Even Fanta can say that at least it’s sorta kinda like oranges and they come from nature, so that’s a little bit of something. But cola—cola doesn’t come from nature; there is no cola plant. Oh, hold on, there is. OK, well, it doesn’t exist in North America anyway.

I don’t think you ever hear a description of the taste of Coke in any of their ads. At most, you’ll hear that it tastes “refreshing” or simply “Aahhh!” These are not flavours. With Diet Coke, what’s usually being sold is a lifestyle. It’s all the flavour, without the calories. It’s good because it’ll help you stay on your diet, i.e. stay/get thin. It’ll make you feel better about yourself. What’s that, Papa Maslow? Self-esteem is the second tier of your hierarchy of basic needs? Ah, so it’s pretty important then, you say? Thanks, Papa. You’re always there for me when I need you. You’re a good Papa. Happy belated Father’s Day, by the way. I know I didn’t call. I should have called. Did you get the tie I sent you?

I think this ad is not only blatantly wrong when it comes to the matter of health, and questionable when it comes to what they mean about the word “right”, but also, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for the product’s highly-influenceable target market, teens and young adults because it is telling them that they are doing something right. At a time of life when one is in a constant state of self-questioning, being told that you’re doing something right for a change feels pretty good. So do it more! If it feels good, do it more, right? Isn’t that what being a teenager is all about? Isn’t that what your highschool experience was like? Mine certainly was, consequences be damned. Damn you, consequences. Damn you all to high hell.

So, to wrap up, this ad makes me mad. It angered me the first time I saw it and it pisses me off every time I drive past it on my way home from work. So much so, in fact, that one day I pulled over onto a side street to take a picture of it. (Actually, I had forgotten to take a picture of it and had to take a detour and round back so that I could.) I think it’s irresponsible and lacks conscience. For shame, Coca-Cola. For. Shame.

Originally posted June 18, 2012

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