Citizen Coke And The Sugar Cane

I was watching Rachel Maddow last night when the new-ish corporate commercial for Coke, called “Coming Together,” came on the screen. In fairness, I wanted to see how it played in the real world; I’d watched it earlier on You Tube, and it struck me as the short film equivalent of what the substitute teacher might show in 8th grade social studies (with help from the AV guy) if the class were misbehaving. Then I wondered if I actually was the one misbehaving, so this time I tried to sit up and pay attention.

The next thing I knew it was 40 minutes later.

I’m not kidding: two full minutes of super-calm droning of the kindliest, most reasonable female narrator in the universe, backed by the delightful tinkling of bells mixed with delicate strings, coupled with the sensory overload of seriously committee-tested, fair-and-balanced visuals knocked me right out.

If you could bottle the spot, you’d have Coke Ambien.

For starters, it’s trying way too hard to have it every which way, and trots out too much corporate blather and jibber-jabber. All that lawyer-approved disingenuousness shuts my circuits down.

Most people watching would find it interesting to know that Coca-Cola owns over 600 brands, including teas, waters, sports drinks, health drinks, and the sweetener Truvia. I love the design of the tiny cans, and the big graphic calorie counts on the front labels of the sugared drinks. All good information. But you can’t have it both ways. Exactly how deeply concerned is citizen Coca-Cola about "playing an important role" in addressing obesity, when clearly it is also using this very same message to lobby voraciously on behalf of  high-fructose-syrupy, supersized drinks (which Mayor Bloomberg of New York City is threatening to kill) and against higher soda taxes?

This will take “continued effort from all of us,” says the announcer, evenly. But speak for yourself, lady. It’s a bit presumptuous to ask your customers to exert any effort in your direction. 

The root causes of obesity are so complicated, with so many possible angles (never mind Coke’s role in that epidemic), that my very astute colleague Larry Dobrow also addressed the problem this week.

The announcer takes pains to point out “one common-sense fact”: that a calorie is a calorie, and they all count, no matter the source. But most nutritionists and scientists believe that the high-fructose corn syrup in soda sets off the body’s glycemic index in a different way than, say, broccoli does. (Not to mention the possible trouble with aspartame in the low- and no-calorie varieties.)

Speaking of broccoli, however, “Coming Together” is the sensible, cruciferous vegetable of Coca-Cola’s anti-obesity campaign portfolio. A second spot attempts to be far more entertaining and lighthearted, showing how you can burn off the “140 happy calories” in a 12-ounce, full-fructose can or bottle of Coke.

This is even more Orwellian. Using the Ingrid Michaelson song, “Be OK,” it shows that working your can off hardly means working your can off. It takes a mere “25 minutes of letting your dog be your GPS” (if you are an adorable, skinny, Zooey Deschanel type, wearing the perfect separates and laughing madly as your dog pulls you along the perfect metropolitan walkway.) Then it’s just “75 seconds of LOL” plus one victory dance at a bowling alley. If you’re like me, you sort of glaze over the 25 minutes of intense walking part, and think one round of a happy dance will knock them calories right out.

Let’s get to the real ugliness. No one wants to address it publicly, but this issue is also a class issue dictated by the cheapness of high-fructose corn syrup. The weird economics of corn syrup rears its head in the supermarket, where two-liter bottles often cost less than the 12-ouncers, and certainly cost less than the graphically adorable, portion-controlled, eight-ounce cans.

Thus, the 67.6-fluid-ounce version of Coca-Cola is the most reasonable choice for low-income communities. This doesn’t help in the ostensible message of drink less soda, as it is weighted against the working poor. (For more brain twisters, the New York chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. actually argued FOR Coca-Cola and the beverage industry at a hearing on banning supersized sugary drinks in State Supreme Court today in Manhattan, even though the obesity rate for African-Americans in NYC is higher than the city average. They said it would unfairly impact minority-owned small businesses.)

So the unintended consequences are crazy.

So what’s a disingenuous corporate citizen to do? Here’s my suggestion, based on the fact that last week, at the front desk of my apartment building, the doorman was standing guard over a case of Coke (in vintage eight-oz bottles!) The old kind, with the real sugar! Apparently, one of the tenants has it shipped to him by a relative from Mexico every month.

I had a Pavlovian reaction to it: My mouth watered when I saw it. And as the other tenants passed by, I could see that they were also eyeing the sauce like liquid crack.

So here’s your answer: Leave all the high-fructose corn syrup behind. Go back to pure sugar cane, and the (now-tiny) eight-ounce bottle. Sell it in liquor stores, or behind the counter at drugstores, like federally regulated extra-strength Claritin-D. Charge a ridiculous amount, like $5 a bottle. (That’s the equivalent of what it is in fancy hotels in Europe.)

It then becomes an apertif, a dessert, or candy. Call it Coke Suave. Then, instead of turning mind-deadening, disingenuous legal cartwheels in advertising, all you have to say about Coke is  that it’s “Delicious and Refreshing.”

That’s the way the Real Thing was advertised in 1907, and it was a real sleeper.  

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12 comments about "Citizen Coke And The Sugar Cane".
  1. Steve Gibson from Garage Team Mazda , January 24, 2013 at 7:33 p.m.
    ughh. . you lost me at "I was watching Rachel Maddow"
  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 24, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.
    well, just wanted to underscore the fact that it's running on odd cable networks.
  3. Chuck Gafvert from Self employed , January 24, 2013 at 8:32 p.m.
    Coke has no place to run and hide. Here's a video by Dr Robert Lustig that argues that too much fructose and too little fiber are the drivers behind the rise of many chronic diseases. www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM This video is long, but filled with astounding facts.
  4. Chuck Gafvert from Self employed , January 24, 2013 at 9:43 p.m.
    One additional thought -- Beyonce's great sin isn't lip synching, but rather selling out Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' ideals to pocket $50M as "Global Ambassador" for Pepsi. Soft drinks, including soda, sports and fruit beverages are the main culprits making kids fat.
  5. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications , January 25, 2013 at 5:21 a.m.
    Long ago I lived in Italy and enjoyed an occasional Coke (merely cooled) in what we call a juice glass. A liter lasted a week. Now, at Passover, when the grocery stocks Cokes from Mexico, I buy them out to enjoy over the summer. Really good piece on cause and effect, Barbara.
  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , January 25, 2013 at 9:13 a.m.
    More INTERESTING was the media plan. MSNBC to lead fight against sugar lobby.
  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 25, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.
    wow, Nina, great planning on the Passover Coke! And Tom, I thought perhaps it was the media plan to appear on thoughtful shows to reach the right people in D.C.
  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 25, 2013 at 10:12 a.m.
    We can all agree that sugary drinks will always be on the shelf unless the stores voluntarily do not stock them for which the chances are slim and none and Slim just left town. Sugary drinks are smoking hot. LIke it or not, the only way drinkers will think twice about buying and drinking is through their wallets which takes government intervention. $5 for 12 ounces has a deterrent factor and who likes that ? So maybe Coke would be better off staying out of it and stores rearrange shelving that the sugary drinks pay for - sugar stuff on bottom, but then again ....
  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , January 25, 2013 at 11:04 a.m.
    the way to reach the right people in dc is to give money to their pacs and campaigns... but the maddow show probably is watched by all the interns and first year congressional aides who are all thin and drink red bulls
  10. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , January 25, 2013 at 11:09 a.m.
    changing behavior through taxation, as suggested by ms. lynn, does have an effect witness the price of a pack of cigarettes or the cost of a gallon of gasoline...maybe a positive can be done...tax credits for people who eat their veggies....white bread taxed higher than rye.....
  11. George Parker from Parker Consultants , January 25, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.
    Barbara... As you well know, it's the sweet stuff that kills you. That's why I stick to genuine Idaho Potato Vodka. Dry. Not shaken. Not stirred. Just glugged. Cheers/George
  12. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , January 31, 2013 at 1:58 p.m.
    i don't think tax policy could change the ways of george parker