Coca-Cola Addresses Obesity Head-on in New Ads

Beverage Giant Takes 'Calories In, Calories Out' Message to Consumers

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Coca-Cola is jumping into the obesity debate, airing two ads addressing the issue head on.

The obesity debate -- and beverages' role in the health crisis -- has been raging for years. Local governments across the country have unsuccessfully tried to pass taxes on sugary beverages. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a ban on large, sugary beverages, which is set to go into effect in March. And Alex Bogusky and the Center for Science in the Public Interest rolled out the "Real Bears" to mixed reviews in October. While Coca-Cola has been vocal in media, government and industry circles about its moves to bring more low and no-calorie options to market, the new ads mark the first time the beverage giant has taken its message directly to a large swath of consumers.

"It's the first time we're really leaning into the conversation," Diana Garza Ciarlante, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, told Ad Age. "We're doing it in a way that's anchored in what people expect of Coca-Cola. They expect us to be part of the dialogue, to lead where we can and to be responsive."

A two-minute ad, "Coming Together," will begin airing today on national cable channels. The spot, created by Brighthouse and Citizen2, highlights the company's record of developing, distributing and marketing low- and no-calorie beverage options. And it clearly communicates a "calories in, calories out" message.

"Beating obesity will take action by all of us, based on one simple common-sense fact -- all calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories," a voiceover in the ad says. "If you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."

The spot also makes it clear that while Coca-Cola will play an important role in addressing obesity, it will take cooperation from a host of areas. That message contrasts the unilateral moves of local politicians such as Mr. Bloomberg who have portrayed Coca-Cola and its competitors as the cause of obesity.

To date the beverage industry has relied on "coalitions," described as a group of individuals, businesses and community organizations to defend it publicly. The New Yorkers for Beverage Choices group, for example, was present at hearings debating the ban on large, sugary drinks, while executives from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo were not.

"The issue of obesity in the U.S. often tends to be discussed in narrow terms -- a do or don't, this or that. It's too polarizing," Ms. Garza Ciarlante said. "We believe the way you can drive and affect change is to bring people together around the table and work together. We're hopeful this new dialogue we're beginning to have will encourage more of that."

A second ad, "Be OK," will debut on "American Idol" on Wednesday. That 30-second spot, created by Latin America shop David The Agency, will also air during the Super Bowl pre-game show. Ms. Garza Ciarlante said "Be Ok" is part of a global campaign that's in keeping with the Coca-Cola brand voice. It features a host of activities -- walking a dog, dancing -- that burn off the 140 calories in a regular can of Coke.

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