“Coca-Cola is taking on obesity,” read the AP coverage of the company’s new commercial this week, “with an online video showing how [much] fun it could be to burn off the 140 calories in a can of its soda.”
As The Atlantic reports,”The scene puts a covey of Californians around a comically oversized bicycle on Santa Monica beach. They stationery-cycle in montage for 20 to 30 smiling minutes each (depending on each person’s size and vigor), until they’ve burned the requisite number of calories to coax an aluminum can along a whimsical Rube-Goldberg-type trapeze. The can eventually reaches the big payoff, when a giant disembodied hand bestows to the pedaler Coca-Cola.
“Not everyone thought it looked fun. “They’re showing exactly why you wouldn’t want to drink a Coke,” brand consultant Laura Riessaid, presumably not while biking. “Twenty-three minutes on a bike is not fun for most people.” (23 minutes was the average time required for a 140-pound person—though as Adweek noted, the average 20-year-old man weighs 196 pounds, and the average woman of the same age weighs 166 pounds.)
“It’s also uncomfortably evocative of a lab experiment where hamsters run on a wheel until they are delivered a pellet of, say, opium. But others in the foodie world were less skeptical of the marketing move than they were enraged by it. I probably would have been too, if I were still capable of strong emotions.
“Because asking how much time it takes to burn off the calories in a can of Coke is like asking how many Hail Marys it takes to uncheat at poker. I think it does something for your immortal soul, but if you get caught you’re still going to get punched in the stomach. Even if you give everyone their money back, it’s not over. Best case scenario, future games are going to be awkward.
“This is a light-hearted, down-to-Earth message,” Coke spokeswoman Judith Snyder told USA Today. “There are fun ways to burn calories. We want to be very clear that this is not at all a dig at nutritionists but a fun, lighthearted way to present this message.”
“It is, though. It’s a dig, Judith. Coca-Cola is not taking on obesity; it is taking on its rotting public image. The campaign is absolutely a dig at the work of nutritionists, in that “Keep eating junk food, just exercise the calories off” is exactly the message that public-health advocates have been fighting in recent years, because it’s not the legit proposition it might seem to be.”