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Coca-Cola addresses obesity, defends itself in TV ad campaign

The beverage giant showcases its efforts to be transparent about the nutritional content of products and to expand its line of drinks with low or no calories.

January 15, 2013|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times
  • Coca-Cola's ad to debut Monday night points out that the company’s portfolio of more than 650 beverages includes more than 180 low- or no-calorie drinks.
Coca-Cola's ad to debut Monday night points out that the company’s… (Paul Thomas, Bloomberg )

A perennial target for critics of sugary drinks, Coca-Cola Co. took to prime-time TV broadcasts to acknowledge its role in the fattening of Americans — and to defend itself.

In a two-minute advertisement that was to debut Monday night on cable news channels, the world's top beverage company addressed what it called the "complex challenge of obesity."

In a spot it called "Coming Together" — a similar phrase Starbucks Corp. used in the fall to try to get fiscal cliff negotiations moving — Coca-Cola showcased its efforts to be transparent about the nutritional content of its products and to expand its line of drinks with low or no calories.

"Today, we'd like people to come together on something that concerns all of us: obesity," says a soothing female voice over images of smiling Americans and Coca-Cola products. "The long-term health of our families and the country is at stake."

The ad points out that the company's portfolio of more than 650 beverages includes more than 180 low- or no-calorie drinks. Most of the full-calorie drinks also have healthful versions, according to the spot.

Health advocates such as Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the commercials are Coca-Cola's attempt to "forestall sensible policy approaches to reducing sugary drink consumption," including ideas for increasing taxes and instituting bans.

"The soda industry is under siege, and for good reason," Jacobson said. "This new advertising campaign is just a damage control exercise and not a meaningful contribution toward addressing obesity."

The culpability of beverage makers in the nation's rising obesity rates has been an especially controversial issue in the last year.

New York is poised to implement a ban approved last year by the city's health board on large sugary drinks in a variety of venues. That action prompted opponents to brand Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a "nanny," but it also inspired other cities, such as Washington, D.C., to consider similar measures.

Last month, pop singer Beyonce faced blow-back from her multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with soda maker PepsiCo. As part of the partnership, her image will appear on certain Pepsi cans and she will do commercials for the brand. She is also set to perform in the Pepsi Halftime Show during the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

Health advocates urged the superstar to back out of the partnership or donate the proceeds to hospitals, diabetes groups or other health organizations. She has yet to respond.

In October, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and other soda makers agreed to start listing calorie counts for their beverages on vending machines, initially in select cities such as Chicago and San Antonio.

The new Coke commercial lists a litany of statistics.

For example, Coca-Cola said it has helped cut the average calorie-per-serving in U.S. beverages 22% in the last 15 years. The company said smaller portions of its most popular drinks will be available in 90% of the country by year's end.

And by swapping out uber-sugary options from schools in favor of water, juices and body-conscious choices, Coke said that since 2004, it has helped reduce the calorie count 90% in drinks available in the schools it serves.

Additionally, the Atlanta company's ad noted that it has put calorie counts on the front of its cans and is working with scientists and nutritionists on zero-calorie natural sweeteners.

But keeping the U.S. healthy wasn't solely Coca-Cola's responsibility, the beverage maker stressed at the end of the ad.

"Beating obesity will take action by all of us, based on one simple common-sense fact: All calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories," the female announcer said. "And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."

None of the actors in the ad appeared to be obese.

On Wednesday, Coca-Cola will launch another commercial during the popular reality show "American Idol." In that ad, dubbed "Be OK," the company will stress that burning off the 140 calories in a single can of Coca-Cola could be fun.

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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