Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to top



The Coca-Cola Solution

The Coca-Cola Solution
Angelo Coppola

Of course, Coca-Cola’s new advertising campaign is manipulative, misleading, and pure marketing BS all at the same time. Agree? Well, in that case, like me, you’re not the target audience for this propaganda.

Coca-Cola has millions of customers; they have to start talking to them about obesity right now, and those customers are their target audience for the ads. Just plain ignoring the issue (in America) has run its course. Apparently, there’s not much mileage left in just shrugging off the obesity epidemic. Blaming kids for being inactive will only get the company so far these days.

Now, they’re trying this:

I’ve been in marketing for about 20 years now, and I tend to look at advertising a little bit differently than most people.

The first thing I noticed about this commercial is the voice-over work, something with which I have intimate familiarity. Many people have complimented me on my ‘radio voice,’ based on the work that I’ve done on the Latest in Paleo podcast. I don’t particularly care for my own voice, but I do pay a lot of attention to matters of audio and I think I may have a knack for spotting talent.  Let me just say that I’ve got zilch, nada, nothing on the voice actor in this commercial. Her engaging voice exudes honesty. And, you know what?

With Coca-Cola’s $3 billion advertising budget (2010), you’d better believe that they can afford to buy “honesty.”

The Manipulative

The opening line of this advertisement tells us right off the bat that Coca-Cola is playing games with us. It is a clear signal that a white-washing is at hand.

For over 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together.

Are they serious? Is that what Coca-Cola has done for 125 years? And here, I thought they were busy making hundreds of brands of mostly-carbonated sugar water. But, I don’t know, maybe their revenues of over $40 billion dollars a year are generated by bringing people together…

By the way, their revenue numbers are almost as sweet as the 2 billion pounds of sugar that Coca-Cola uses each year in the Coke it sells in the United States alone. And make no mistake, Coca-Cola is GLOBAL. Over 94% of people in the world recognize the red-and-white logo. And did you know that in Mexico, they drink nearly 1 1/2 times as much Coke as we do in the U.S. of A?

All right, let’s get back to the commercial…

While they set the stage verbally, telling us about the century-and-a-quarter of bringing us together, they concurrently start working on us visually, too:

  • The old-time soda fountain
  • The all-American mom and daughter placing a six pack of Coke in the grocery cart
  • The big red and white delivery truck
  • The bone-thin, running, young beauty wearing short shorts and a pearly white smile
  • The blissful young lovers
  • The beautiful and content woman sitting alone in a green field wearing a blouse made from the colors of nature itself

And that’s just the first 7 seconds. THE FIRST 7 SECONDS!

Coca-Cola Couple

Who the hell are they and why are they in this obesity ad? Are they placed here to appear as supporters and endorsers of Coca-Cola?

All of these elements are utterly intentional. Story-boarded, planned, scripted, proofs-of-concept, casting, legal reviews, rough cuts, focus groups, surveys…there is nothing accidental about a multinational conglomerate’s advertising.

The honest voice, the visions of wholesome Americana — all of it laid on top of a soundtrack made of hope. Buckle up, because you’re being taken for a ride.

10 seconds — The word obesity is mentioned, and yet everyone in the advertisement so far has been thin and healthy in appearance.

13 seconds — The White House. And the message:

The long-term health of our families and our country is at stake.

White House

OUR Country? Which Country is Coca-Cola’s?

Can you feel them pulling on the strings? It’s non-stop throughout the entire commercial. If they show you images that make you feel good for 2 minutes, you will think more highly of Coca-Cola. These techniques have been honed for a hundred years.

23 seconds — Finally, Coca-Cola’s products are mentioned. Not the sugary ones. Instead they repeat the phrase “low- and no-calorie beverages” twice, and then several more times throughout the ad. Where are the obese people? Where is the “problem.”


180 Artificially Sweetened Beverages…and about 500 High Fructose Corn Syrup Sweetened Products. Progress?

37 seconds — They’re still talking about low- and no-calorie beverages. Talking about how much this has reduced calories in their beverage portfolio. Oh, and for their most popular drinks (that means the ones with full sugar), they now have smaller sizes. Mini cans of Coke. Still no overweight people.

55 seconds — Their script turns to school-aged children. They tell us their industry (why not their company?) has started offering primarily (why not exclusively?) waters, juices and low- and no-calorie (there’s that phrase again) options. No overweight or obese people in sight…

1:04 — And, BAMMO!  Full on whistling over bass chords. Louder! Stronger! Build up the hope! Cue the strings! Fill the viewers eyes with tears of pride and joy! And then, they tell us that their industry has lowered the calories in school beverages by 90%. That sure sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

But wait.

They’re the guys who put all the empty calories into school beverages in the first place.  And they didn’t say anything about which beverages the kids are buying. Who cares if there are five water bottles on the shelf for every can of Coke a kid is actually drinking? Do you see what they did there? What I don’t see is any overweight people.

1:15 — We learn that Coke supports the Boys and Girls Clubs. And the Boys and Girls Clubs help kids stay active. So therefore Coca-Cola must be helping kids get skinny! Well, that’s the BS they want you to fall for anyway.

Holy crap! What is that I see? Is it actually an overweight kid swinging a rope? I guess an overweight person had to make it into this so-called obesity commercial at some point. And bonus points for exercising!

Overweight kid in the Coca Cola Ad

The only noticeably overweight person in the entire 2-minute obesity ad.

1:20 — Coca-Cola is working with scientists and nutritionists to develop zero-calorie sweeteners. And what does ‘working with’ mean, anyway? We’ll never know.  And isn’t it comforting that Coca-Cola is developing zero-calorie sweeteners? Now, I’m willing to bet the healthier a person is, the fewer Coke products they drink. I just don’t see Coca-Cola’s interests being lined up with keeping people healthy. In fact, the healthier people get, the lower I suspect Coca-Cola’s revenues will drop.

1:26 – 1:31 — Hold on to your senses, because within a span of just five seconds 33 human faces will flash before your eyes. That’s about 6 faces per second. All tis while the narrator speaks encouragingly about beating obesity and not one of those 33 people are obese. They are placed into the frame as surrogate supporters of Coca-Cola.

Pure and simple. And you are just like them. In one of those 33 faces you see yourself, your friends.

The Misinformation

Now, three-fourths of the way through Coca-Cola’s “unprecedented” 2-minute obesity “statement,” they finally start talking about the problem. And what is Coca-Cola’s grand message?

1:32 — All calories count, no matter where they come from. Including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories. And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight.

The best misinformation is often neatly tucked away inside of a truthful statement like this one. Here, it’s not so much what they are saying — which in this case is true, folks — but it’s what they are not saying.

Running Coca Cola Woman

You see she burns her Coca-Cola calories…not getting fat is easy.

There is no talk whatsoever about nutrition or nourishment.

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, because when a $160 billion company is selling trillions of empty calories, what else is there to say? When you lower the cost of production by switching to High Fructose Corn Syrup, can you really have a discussion about quality? And when you use known carcinogens in your product, can you talk about toxin elimination?

How many calories are in cyanide, I wonder? Who cares — throw it into a can and slap the number of calories right on the front. In this case, the quality of the Coke or Diet Coke is actually quite superior to cyanide. So should we compare their calories? Maybe I’m a bit naive, but in this case I’d say we should talk about which one makes you drop dead faster. Low-calorie cyanide for the win.

That statement at 1:32 about calories is all of the substance in their supposedly groundbreaking acknowledgment that they are a part of the problem. To me, it sounds more like a cop-out than in any way looking for a solution.

The Marketing Bullshit

1:43 — The well-being of our families and communities concerns everyone, and finding a solution will take continued effort from all of us. But, at Coca-Cola, we know that when people come together, we can make a real difference.

These carefully crafted lines attempt to position Coca-Cola as part of the solution. The $160 billion corporation that sells sugar water wants to help solve the sugar-water problem. We need them.

And yet, they’ve tried to be part of the solution in the past as well.  Have a look:

Apparently, they’ve been talking about calories since at least 1961. Back then, if you drank low-in-calories Coke you had to worry about getting too thin.

Hey now, don’t you get any thinner!

Can you see that Coca-Cola will say anything to sell more of its products? Why drinking a Coke is the equivalent of eating 1/2 a grapefruit, for goodness sake. Half. That’s just 50 calories, so I suppose Cokes used to be smaller back then.

So is this recent message an obesity statement or simply another advertisement in a long line of Coca-Cola ads? All they’ve really done here is to flash hundreds of feel-good images at our lizard brains over the course of 2 minutes or so.

The entire presentation is nearly hypnotic with its carefully choreographed interplay of words, visuals, and music. When the time comes, they want to make sure you like them and that you believe them when they say they will regulate themselves.

Is this the kind of company you can trust to help solve the obesity problem?

No. And the truth is, we can’t really trust any corporation whose fiduciary responsibility puts earnings above human beings.

So who can we turn to for help? Well, there is no easy, overnight solution, but ultimately, we must rely on ourselves. And the most potent weapon we have is voting with our dollars. To the best of our abilities, we can keep dollars out of the hands of the scoundrels in the industrial food complex and put our dollars into the hands of farmers and ranchers and companies with a good track record of valuing quality and decency.

I often think of these words from Steve Jobs:

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”
— Steve Jobs

True. Coca-Cola gives us what we want. But let’s not forget the power of persuasion that comes with billions and billions and BILLIONS of dollars in advertising over the course of 60+ years. They spend it, because it works. Coca-Cola does give us what we want.

But we can change what we want. Educating ourselves can change what we want. We can expose their products for what they are and deconstruct their propaganda, and vow never to be fooled by sugar-water giants. That’s the Coca-Cola solution.

Or, if you really prefer, you can have their version of the Coca-Cola solution: trust us.


Humans Are Not Broken

Did I miss anything in the analysis of Coca-Cola’s obesity statement? Chime in and let me know what you think. Know anyone who might enjoy this article and others on Humans Are Not Broken? You can use the email icon below to share it.

  • This Banksy piece found me late last night & seems relevant to your article.

    ALL HAIL BANKSY!!! lol

    • This piece deserves an article all it’s own. Actually, this piece is an article all its own! I’ll post it soon. Thanks, Mistahmojo.

  • Nice blog. I’d put a semicolon in the first sentence of the second paragraph, between ‘customers’ and ‘they’. Coke (and other corporations) are pretty good at steering the elephant… better than most individuals, unfortunatel;y.

    • Angelo Coppola

      Thanks, Kem. Modified the section.

    • Thanks, Kem. I updated the section you pointed out.

  • hareball

    Nice tear down Angelo…

    I think you’ll like this video:

    • Absolutely. I probably should have included this at the end of the article, but opted for the 60’s ad to show how long they’ve been talking about calories. This video is brilliantly executed. +1

  • I hadn’t read those words by Steve Jobs… so true. Coca Cola, and the soda business in general, have found a great market in Latin America, with their cheaper-than-water alternative. I’ve been living in Australia for a few years, last time I was back home (Peru) I was amazed at how much soda people consume… I would say more than here. Even in the highlands, the (now toothless) natives chug down liters and liters of soda. Several years ago Coca Cola bought Inca Kola (the national soda Peruvians are so proud of), so I guess you’re right when you ask “which country is Coca Cola’s?”.

  • Garrett Fox

    The parallels between Coca-Cola’s current behavior and the diabolical misinformation campaigns of the tobacco industry, with Phillip Morris at the helm, in the 20th century are striking. History is literally repeating itself right before our eyes.

    1. The public (finally) became aware of the causal link between cigarettes and lung cancer in the 60s.

    2. The tobacco industry responded by blatantly denying that there was a scientific consensus about smoking and health, and insisting that there was still a controversy brewing, so they deliberately funded further research. (Coincidentally, much of the Coca-Cola’s Foundation’s dubious philanthropic efforts are donations to the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association to pay for more diabetes and heart disease research and exercise programs, implying that the cause is still unknown and perpetuating the “calorie is a calorie” paradigm.)

    3. To pretend that they REALLY did care about their smoker’s health, the tobacco industry added “low tar, low nicotine yield” cigarettes to their product lines, implying that these lighter smokes were healthier, although their lawyers scoured over every word in the advertisements to ensure that no health benefits were ever explicitly mentioned (which would open the floodgates to future litigation). Light cigarettes turned out to be a massive cash cow, because it turns out that these health-conscious smokers simply compensate for the low nicotine yield cigarettes by smoking MORE total cigarettes! (just like Diet Coke addicts guzzle more total beverages each day and never get satiated. Trust me, I have 2 self-proclaimed DC addicts in my family). A win-win for Big Tobacco. They gave the impression that they care about your health, they sold more cigs, and the stock price on shooting up. It’s genius, really. But bone-chillingly sinister.

    This is the public relations stage in which we currently find Coca-Cola. The “low-calorie, no calorie” beverage line is marketed artfully to IMPLY they are more healthy for you. Morally repulsive you say? Of course, but its brilliant economically because Diet drinks sweetened with snow white laboratory dust (aspartame, acesulfame potassium, etc.) are super-stimuli that are in all likelihood MORE addictive than caloric sweeteners since they NEVER can possibly result in satiety. It’s exactly like that famous experiment: where the lab rats are given access to a button in their cage, that when pushed activates electrodes directly linked to their brain’s pleasure center, and they push it over and over and over again, until they just keel over and die.

    But heck, that’s what makes America the greatest country in the world, right? That’s what the founding fathers intended with the 1st amendment: to protect our corporate citizen’s freedom to brainwash people into becoming mindless cigarette puffing and Coke guzzling zombies!

    Now if this saga plays out anything like the Tobacco Wars, Coke will postpone the day of reckoning with ingenious marketing and incomprehensible volumes of research to keep the obesity/diabetes/heart-disease/(even cancer?) “controversy” brewing as long as possible. The first setback for Coke will likely be an all-out ban of advertising to children, and a ban on Coke products in schools. Once moms finally put two and two together and figure out that all of Coke’s sweetened beverage line is making their kids fat, diabetic, and sick they will get uber-pissed and demand change. And if history tells us anything, people listen to angry Moms. This process will take a long time though, because most Moms are currently Diet Coke addicts 😉

    A Surgeon General with the balls (or ovaries) to speak out against Coke couldn’t hurt either for shifting the weight of public opinion.

    I highly recommend the 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning book Ashes to Ashes by Richard Kluger, that chronicles the tobacco industry’s rise to dominance and the disturbing behind-the-scenes scheming they employed to triumph over the public health whistleblowers. Fascinating is an understatement.

  • There may be grounds for saying that HFCS is worse than other forms of sugar. Aspartame and sweeteners are supposed to be less than good for us, which rather knocks the no/lo calorie focus.

  • Pingback: Vitaminwater: More Coca-Cola Shenanigans()

  • Way to cut through the crap Angelo. I can’t remember the last time I had a soda of any kind let alone a coke. Coke is one of several grand marketing models that could sell anything to the masses. More people need to see through these smoke and mirror ads and find the reality.

    Just by chance I found your Podcast a few weeks ago and my wife and I are now hooked on it. I had already begun down the path of the Paleo way of eating and living when I saw “Latest in Paleo” in the podcasts. Fascinated by the titles I began downloading them for them for my upcoming road trip. Listening to them, I find myself laughing out loud because I’m thinking to myself, YES Exactly! I been thinking and saying that myself for years now!! Great work man! Great Work… keep it up!!

    One more note to you before I have to get back to work…. A little over a year ago I listened to this short video, a TED talk, by a woman named Dr. Terry Wahls. She had been diagnosed with MS. She sought out help from the latest and best MS center she could find for treatment to no positive avail. To make a long story short she turned to a highly natural, super nutritious way of eating ( I hate using the word “diet” which seems to imply “temporary”) and made some serious changes, focusing on fueling and helping the mitochondria thrive. Within a year of being wheelchair bound, she was biking 17 miles to work daily. She caused a 180 degree change in her health. Its a fascinating, highly inspiring story that I wanted to share with you. Its been a while since I watched it but I’m pretty sure she’s in the neighborhood of a paleo diet. Here’s the video…

    Thanks again man. I’m going through your podcasts one by one from the beginning though I’m jumping to some other titles in between that I can’t ignore! Your Sugar is Poison accompanied me and the dog yesterday on a long Paleo walk through nature. I’ll be tuned in tonight at the gym. Keep up the good fight!

    • Hi, Ralph!

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the show! I play the Dr. Terry Wahls piece on one of the episodes. And, if I’m able to make it to PaleoFX this year, I may get a chance to talk with her — absolutely fascinating story.

  • Pingback: Latest in Paleo 65: Too Good at Paleo()

  • Pingback: Friday 1st February « KB CrossFit()

  • Pingback: Eat Well, Move Well Podcast #6 – Post 30 Days of Real Food()

  • Pingback: Reader Roundup, February 2013  Humans Are Not Broken()

  • I saw that ad, one of the rare moments I sit near the boob tube. Nothing more than what you say it is. A well researched attempt to make everyone think “they” want to help “us”. Total BS!
    Great teardown!

  • Pingback: My Carb Disclaimer Humans Are Not Broken()

  • Pingback: Is There Hope for the Golden Arches? #mcdonalds #millennials | So-Called Millennial()

  • Pingback: Is There Hope for the Golden Arches? #mcdonalds #millennials |