New York City's Anti-Soda Ad Aims to Take the Fizz out of Coke and Pepsi

New York City is embarking on the "second phase" of its campaign against soda, although skeptics may say it's a Quixotic attempt to reform the public's love affair with Coke and Pepsi. The city's health department this week released a video depicting what it says is the effect of drinking sugary sodas: consuming bubbling, roiling blobs of fat. (A word of warning: viewing this ad may make induce hours of queasiness.)

As the country'smost populouscity, New York has put itself at the forefront of a public health campaign to make its residents more aware of the ramifications of their food and soda consumption, from a regulation last year that forced chain restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus to banning trans fats in restaurant cooking. Now, the city wants New Yorkers to know that drinking a cold soda each day for a year "can make you ten pounds fatter," leading to obesity and other health problems.

David Has Goliath's Attention

With the latest ad in its "Are you pouring on the pounds?" campaign, the city is taking aim at the two biggest marketers in the country: Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and PepsiCo Inc. (PEP).

Coca-Cola, for instance, is the sixth-largest global marketer, spending $2.67 billion in advertising, while Pepsi ranked No. 27 with $1.39 billion in ad spending, according to Advertising Age. New York, meanwhile, spent just $50,000 on the anti-soda video and won't pay to place it on television networks. The health department is hoping for a bit of technological magic, using Facebook and YouTube to create a viral campaign that will bring the ad to thousands. And there's some evidence it's working, with the video gaining more than 65,000 views since it was posted on Monday.

Even though those numbers are a far cry from the millions of consumers who see Coke and Pepsi ads each year, the video is being taken seriously by the American Beverage Association, a trade group that represents beverage companies and whose board is stuffed with executives from Pepsi and Coke and their bottlers. The ABA said in a statementthat NYC's ad is a "sensationalized video that inaccurately portrays our industry's products - products that are fat-free." Since 1998, calories in for-sale beverages have declined by 21%, the group says.

That may be so, points out Roberta Friedman, the director of public policy at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, but beverage companies have introduced many more calorie-laden choices for consumers since that time. "Maybe consumers are switching away from soda but switching to vitamin waters that are sweetened and sports drinks (such as Gatorade)," she says.

Can the Ad Sour Consumers' Sweet Tooth?

So will this ad siphon some of the public's desire for sugar-sweetened drinks? "It's a daunting task because the soda industry has plenty of resources, many more than the public health community does," Friedman says. "Every little bit helps, not only to raise awareness but to send a message to the public that they need to think about the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages."

It may take some time for viewers to forget the image of fat blobs surging out of their soda can the next time they pick up a Coke. But it may relieve some to know the video used a sleight-of-hand to portray the fat. According to a NYC Health Department spokeswoman,"The substance was a hodgepodge of food products which resembled the consistency of real fat."

So in the health department's desire to illustrate the dangers of soda consumption, no humans were actually forced to drink fat.

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