Well, I guess we should have seen this one coming: Big Soda is fighting back, and they’re going to use “science” (ahem, ahem) as a weapon. (They already sell weapons of mass destruction, of course, but those are generally used to commit a drawn-out suicide.)
First, let’s examine why Big Soda is fighting back. Here’s a quote from an article on LewRockwell.com:
Sales of sugar-laden sodas have been declining steadily for years and the beverage giants are scrambling to reinvent their products and dodge the blame for health risks associated with those products. PepsiCo just announced that it is killing off aspartame in its diet sodas, as consumers, better educated by way of online access and social media, are starting to avoid the industrial food machine’s aspartame and high fructose corn syrup.
And another quote from an article in the New York Times:
“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”
Soon after Fat Head came out, I engaged in online debates with people who were outraged that I refused to blame McDonald’s for the rise in obesity. The exchanges usually went something like this:
Of course it’s their fault! They draw people in with their advertising and get them hooked on junk food!
I’m sorry their advertising got you hooked on eating at McDonald’s. If only you’d had the willpower to resist the ads.
I’m not talking about me. I never eat at McDonald’s. I’m talking about other people.
The ads didn’t draw you in and get you hooked? So you’re really just concerned for the stupid people who, unlike you, are powerless to resist the advertising?
I didn’t say that!!
Yeah, you pretty much did.
That’s the mindset of people who believe our decisions are controlled by evil corporations: we buy what we buy because it’s what the corporations sell.
That’s not how markets work. We don’t buy what they sell. They sell what we’re willing to buy – and all the fancy advertising in the world won’t convince us to buy products we don’t want. If advertising were that effective, New Coke and the McLean burger would have been smashing successes.
So now Big Soda’s sales are tanking — and in case you haven’t noticed, they advertise just as much now as they did 20 years ago. Perhaps more so. But it’s not working. As an article in Slate Magazine explains:
Consumers have gotten a lot more health-conscious, so they’re fleeing both sugar-packed drinks and artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Consumer skepticism has officially replaced New York’s attempted big-drink ban as the biggest threat to the soda industry.
Which is why New York’s attempted big-drink ban was another shining of example of a useless nanny-state regulation dreamed up by The Anointed. Anyway …
So before it’s too late, Coca-Cola is trying to change the narrative. With the best science that money can buy.
How do you get health-conscious consumers to drink Coke? Apparently Coke believes confusing the science will do the trick. From the New York Times article:
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.
The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.
That’s why you’re fat, America! It’s not the sodas; it’s your laziness. Get off the sofa, get active, then go enjoy those sodas jam-packed with all that yummy high-fructose corn syrup.
The PR campaign includes a video that you can watch on this page. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The bearded dude in the video is one of the scientists now on the Coca-Cola payroll. When I watched the video, I had the same reaction as Karen De Coster, who wrote the article on LewRockwell.com:
The man in the video is Steven Blair, PED, FACSM, a Professor in the Department of Exercise Science in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. That he’s a mouthpiece for “public health” sends a clear message that he is a paid-for shill for the Industrial Food Machine. And then, am I not supposed to notice, or say, that this Professor of “exercise science” is obese?
Coca-Cola may want to re-think the PR strategy here. They hope to convince us it’s mainly a lack of exercise causing obesity. They’ve got a professor of exercise science saying as much – but he’s clearly a very, uh, large man. So what are we supposed to believe about him? That he knows all about the weight-loss benefits of exercise, but isn’t interested in applying to himself? Shades of Kelly Brownell.
Given that Coke is pumping millions of dollars into this effort, I’m sure it’s tempting to be outraged. Don’t be. The proper response here is a hearty laugh, because Coke may as well pour those millions down the drain. This campaign will be about as effective as the ad campaign for New Coke. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, and you can keep the donuts.
Some years ago, yeah, maybe the strategy would have worked. That’s because some years ago, information flowed from the top down, through a series of information gatekeepers. Companies like Coca-Cola had the financial muscle, through advertising dollars and otherwise, to give marching orders to many of those gatekeepers.
That’s just not how it works anymore. Not in the days of the internet, social media, and the Wisdom of Crowds. Information flows down, up and sideways. The information gatekeepers are increasingly irrelevant (where they even still exist), and public trust in the “science” presented in Big Media is plummeting. The comments sections of articles promoting grains or low-fat diets are so full of blistering critiques, I’m surprised some news sites even allow comments.
In the final episode of Mad Men, we learned that Don Draper was the advertising genius whose jingle had us all wanting to teach the world to sing and buy the world a Coke. (In the land of TV fiction, that is.) But that was then. Now more and more people don’t even want to buy themselves a Coke – and there’s nothing Don Draper or a bunch of paid shills with PhDs can do about it.