Healthy Eating

How We’re Defenseless Against Creepy Coca-Cola Ads

Glass of Cola with Ice CubesThat’s funny.

When I think back to some recent times I felt revived, relaxed, bold, adventurous or radiantly healthy, Coca-Cola doesn’t come to mind, despite what the coca-cola ads.

Neither does Mountain Dew or a McCafé frozen mocha.

Pretty sure Vitamin Water wasn’t there. Nor Snapple, or even Honest Tea.

Come to think of it, nowhere in my memory of ANY special experience does a beverage figure into the picture.

So what’s all this business about drinks elevating our lives?

Why are New Yorkers taking to the streets over the prospect of a new law that could downsize their restaurant drink portions, calling it a violation of constitutional liberties? IT’S JUST A SMALLER COKE.

I think we’ve been brainwashed.

Actually, let me pause for a moment to mention that I’ve always liked Coca-Cola. Yes, I actually do unconsciously equate it with refreshment and a midday boost. Not only that, but it’s kind of like a familiar friend. When traveling abroad, I’m relieved to spot the red and white cans beaming out from convenience store fridges.

But when I bought a Coke in Russia last month, I don’t recall it being all that satisfying. The first sip was crisp and refreshing. But it was all downhill after that—culminating in an odd aftertaste, a brown tongue and the same grogginess I started with.

So how about the last time you dropped two bucks (or at the movies, $5) for a Coke? Did it deliver the thirst-quenching exhilaration you were led to expect?

Or was it, in the end, if we’re being honest, a little more ‘meh’ than ‘ahhh’? A little more 200-calorie, sugar-soaked, food-colored water in a bottle?

For most people, I’d guess that Coke delivers a just-average experience. It’s nice-ish. But certainly not worth the calories, cavities and dehydration. (Or the weight gain and diabetes.)

Which begs the question, why are we drinking this crap? (Or drinking water but secretly coveting Coke instead?) Why is Coca-Cola the most popular beverage in the world?!

Why? It might be pretty easy to see why, when you look at the last 100 years of Coca-Cola advertising. Here’s a sampling from Wikipedia:

  • 1886 – Drink Coca-Cola.
  • 1905 – Coca-Cola revives and sustains.
  • 1917 – Three million a day.
  • 1923 – Enjoy life.
  • 1924 – Refresh yourself.
  • 1925 – Six million a day.
  • 1927 – Pure as Sunlight
  • 1927 – Around the corner from anywhere.
  • 1929 – The pause that refreshes.
  • 1932 – Ice-cold sunshine.
  • 1937 – America’s favorite moment.
  • 1938 – The best friend thirst ever had.
  • 1939 – Whoever you are, whatever you do, wherever you may be, when you think of refreshment, think of ice cold Coca-Cola.
  • 1945 – Passport to refreshment.
  • 1949 – Coca-Cola … along the highway to anywhere.
  • 1952 – What you want is a Coke.
  • 1959 – Be really refreshed.
  • 1989 – Can’t Beat the Feeling.
  • 1993 – Always Coca-Cola.
  • 2001 – Life tastes good.
  • 2005 – Make It Real.
  • 2007 – Live on the Coke Side of Life
  • 2011 – Life Begins Here
  • 2012 – Open Happiness

After reading this, does anyone else feel slightly stalked by Coca-Cola? Slightly bossed around, and confused about what a soda drink has to do with sunshine and being American?

And by the way, “Live on the Coke Side of Life”? What does that even MEAN?

While no other manufactured beverage marketing is quite as pompous as Coke, they’re all making big promises to us. They’re all telling us that drinks aren’t drinks at all, but “experiences” and “attitudes.” Sure makes water seem boring, doesn’t it.

And it goes beyond the slogans: Most of the “experience” message is conveyed subliminally through dewy, colorful packaging; product placement and celebrity endorsement; and ad imagery of people who are clearly living life to the fullest.

These all slip right past our B.S.-detectors and into our subconscious mind where most of our buying choices are made.

So how do we break the marketing spell and stop guzzling hyped-up drinks, when all we really need to “live life to the fullest” is a glass of water?

P.S. I recently learned that Vitamin Water—in all its health-promising glory—has 32 grams of sugar. Wow. Sign me up for a multivitamin!

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert


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