NYC's Bottle-of-Fat Ads as Nauseating as Industry Response

In Trying to Frame Their Arguments in the Long-Fought Obesity Battle, both Parties Made Jackasses of Themselves

By Published on .

Like many complex public-policy issues for which the financial stakes are high -- think universal health-care coverage and climate change -- the link between soft drinks and obesity has tempted certain interested parties to make jackasses of themselves.

We'll shortly consider one of those parties -- the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene -- and its subway campaign against excessive soft-drink consumption. First, though, we shall heroically attempt to frame the issues:

Client: NYC Dept. of Health
Agency: In-house
The message is loud and clear. But it is also literally nauseating.
1. Sugared drinks are pauses that refresh, and also fill you with empty calories. According to the American Heart Association, they represent 33% of American sugar consumption.

2. There is an obvious and direct link between empty calories and the obesity epidemic.

3. Excluding the toll it takes on public health in general, obesity affects the individual, not others. Unlike smoking, illegal drugs or excessive alcohol consumption, if AdReview wishes to guzzle six liters of Coke per day, that's our problem alone.

4. Coca-Cola Co., for example, is in the empty-calories business. It isn't obliged to try to stop AdReview from larding ourselves into oblivion. Nor does it face a moral issue. Coke is refreshing and delicious and not in reasonable quantities harmful.

5. There is nonetheless a genuine public-health crisis in the indiscriminate intake of empty calories, particularly by children. It certainly behooves governments to raise awareness of the facts and dangers attendant to soda gluttony.

6. It also behooves parents to restrict their kids' beverage consumption -- in exactly the way they should restrict TV, and TV-commercial, consumption.

7. For similar reasons, any school superintendent who permits soda machines on school property should be summarily fired. (And they ought to revamp their cafeteria menus, too, because they're a national disgrace.)

8. All of the above applies equally to McDonald's and other crap slingers.

So, let's look at what New York City did to fulfill Item No. 5.

The subway posters show someone pouring various sugary beverages into a glass -- only what spills out isn't sweet tea or sports ade or soda pop; it's human fat. The headline says: "Are you pouring on the pounds?" Then, "Don't drink yourself fat." Then, the copy: "Cut back on soda and other sugary beverages. Go with water, seltzer or low-fat milk instead."

Putting aside the careless and amateurish art direction (what's with the highball glass?), the message is loud and clear. But it is also literally nauseating.

AdReview does not believe even the best-intentioned PSA has any right to make the audience physically sick. It's reminiscent of the British anti-dog-litter cinema spot that showed adult people pooping on the sidewalk. It's just too gross to inflict on people. Hence: jackass alert.

But not as jacky as the asses at the American Beverage Association, who decided to take umbrage at being singled out. ABA wants you to know that only 5.5% of America's calories come from soft drinks. "Simply naming one food source as a unique contributor," it asserts, "minimizes a disease as complex as obesity."

No, it doesn't. What "minimizes" understanding is selectively choosing one statistic in order to gloss over a supremely salient fact: that the other 94.5% of caloric intake provides, in varying degrees, what soft drinks never do: nutrition.

Even burgers and french fries, which together account for fewer calories than sugared beverages, offer some nutritional benefit. Pepsi and Snapple offer none.

It's obnoxious for New York City to assault subway riders. For the swill industry to assault the truth is an outrage.

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