Health Ad Hits Coke: 'Happiness Doesn't Come in a Red Can. Obesity Does'

Ad Shows Street Team Convincing Consumers to Swap Coke for Healthier Beverages

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"Because happiness doesn't come in a red can. Obesity does." Those are the parting words in a new spot from Maryland-based Horizon Foundation.

The 30-second ad, which begins airing on Oct. 28 in the Howard County, Md., and Baltimore areas, attacks Coca-Cola, repeatedly featuring the company's famous logo. The ad shows a team of young people in green shirts with the slogans "Burp Better" and "Gulp Better" convincing people to trade their cans, bottles and cups of Coke for beverages with lower or no calories. "Corporations spend millions convincing us we like soda," the ad says. "We're testing this theory: people can like something better."

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"We see this as more of an attack on the advertising," said Ian Kennedy, communications director at the Horizon Foundation, citing Coca-Cola's outsized spend on full-calorie products, compared to lower calorie and zero calorie products. "We're not trying to make Coke a villain. …We're not going to improve public health, if we make enemies out of the beverage makers."

That said, Mr. Kennedy admits the beverage companies are probably "not going to love [the ad], to put it mildly." He noted the foundation consulted with trademark attorneys about the campaign, and it believes it has a "solid legal standing."

Still, the buy is small, $40,000 for a three-week effort that will run locally against "Good Morning America," "Today Show" and "CBS This Morning," as well as on a variety of cable networks including CNN, BET, HGTV, Bravo, USA and Foot Network. SalterMitchell handled the campaign.

Worth noting, in longer versions of the ad, beverages produced by both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, like Honest Tea's kids line and Aquafina, can be seen as the better-for-you alternatives to soda. Mr. Kennedy says the group is frustrated that Coca-Cola doesn't spend more money advertising its healthier brands, like Honest Tea.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman declined to comment on the campaign or on whether the company would pursue any legal action, referring calls to the local branch of the American Beverage Association.

"You can be a healthy person and enjoy a soft drink as part of a balanced lifestyle," said Ellen Valentino, exec-VP for the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Beverage Association. "It's a missed opportunity. Singling out one product is clearly the wrong message to send."

Mr. Kennedy explained that the foundation, which launched Howard County Unsweetened as a means of promoting lower-calorie beverage options last December, has identified obesity as the biggest issue facing its community. In the last year, the group has purchased Facebook ads and other online ads for its Better Beverage Finder, a site where consumers can search for healthier drink options. The new ad marks the first time the group has made a TV buy.

In addition to the Horizon Foundation, the campaign is being supported by the Maryland State Medical Society, People Acting Together in Howard, Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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