As I was walking to work this morning, I saw a giant bus ad that read, "Don't let bureaucrats tell you what beverage to buy." It bore the silhouette of a muscular man triumphantly holding up a cup of soda and directed viewers to NYCBeverageChoices.com. The ad campaign and website are part of the beverage industry's ongoing efforts to overturn New York City's ban on the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces.
Then I got into the office and got wind of Coca-Cola's latest ad: a 2-minute-long commercial touting the company's commitment to reducing obesity by offering diet alternatives and smaller portion sizes. (See the ad below.)
That's right: At the same time Coca-Cola (KO) is boasting about its smaller cans and diet offerings, it's fighting tooth-and-nail for the right to sell drinks in giant, calorie-packed servings.
Coca-Cola (and the rest of the beverage industry) would likely chalk this up to a matter of personal choice, arguing that it's conscientiously offering consumers smaller, healthier options but that customers should still have the right to choose a 44-ounce sugary soda. And I'd agree with them on that point: I think that Coca-Cola and other beverage makers should be able to sell whatever size drinks they please, and that New Yorkers should be allowed to get as fat as they want drinking them.
But just because they have the right to sell 44-ounce sodas doesn't mean they ought to do so, as there's no question that ever-growing portion sizes in this country are a contributing factor to our ever-expanding waistlines -- and HFCS-laden sodas add nothing but empty calories to our diets. For Coca-Cola to declare that it can "play an important role" in addressing obesity while intensely lobbying on behalf of Double Big Gulps and the like is drinking out of both sides of the cup.
Yes, Coca-Cola has taken steps in a healthier direction by selling diet alternatives and smaller-sized cans. But if they're going to call themselves part of the solution while fighting to remain part of the problem, we're going to call this new ad what it is: a disingenuous P.R. pitch. Watch the ad below and decide for yourself.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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