The Soda Wars: How Coke And Brands Big And Small Are Duking It Out Via Video

Soda has become the prime punching bag for parents and public officials seeking a culprit for the country's obesity problem. And now, they're hitting back, with each brand using a different approach to defend their turf.

Other than the gun debate, there is no more volatile a conversation playing out in the public sphere than the soda wars. Soda brands have increasingly become the prime punching bag for parents and public officials seeking a culprit for the country's obesity problem. And now, they're hitting back.

Last week, Coke released its first ad defending itself as an obesity offender. In an effort to retain its hold as a culturally relevant brand, the "Coming Together" spot reminds customers that the Coca Cola Company—the number one soda company in the world—is in fact more than just soft drinks (VitaminWater! Odwalla fruit smoothies!), and that their bubbly brew has fewer calories than most.

While some public relations folks have lauded Coke for directly addressing America’s obesity epidemic, most perceive this as a brand move as disingenuous as Phillip Morris’s 1990s campaign to get young people to stop smoking.

Coke’s controversial spot, however, is just is the latest in a series of videos released over the past six months by different constituencies attempting to dethrone Big Soda. Take a look at how the narrative between refreshmen underdogs and the brand behemoths are playing out:

Approach: The Science of Sugar

In September, the flask-shaped spring water company Fred released a geeky, yet endearing, animated short film revealing the culprit behind most of our current health problems: sugar. "Sugar has been around forever. So what about it is making us so sick?" the spot titled "Sugar Is Killing Us" poses. With sketchbook-style animation by Arthur Jones and Karl Ackermann, it drills down into the answer: "High fructose corn syrup is sugar’s newer and cheaper twin." One of high fructose corn syrup’s biggest offenders? Soda.

Approach: Consumers Are Being Duped

Then in early October "reformed" ad man Alex Bogusky poured gasoline on the dialogue with "The Real Bears," a video for the D.C. advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Bogusky is best known for making millions doing ads for companies like Burger King and, yes Coke (Coke Zero), during his career at the helm of agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, until earning his last payout and deciding to play for the other team (Read about his enlightenment in "The Adman Wants a Soul"). The three and a half minute animated spot at first appears under the cheery guise of Coca-Cola’s iconic polar bears prancing about to the tune of a Jason Mraz soundtrack. That is, until Bogusky co-opts the soda drinking wildlife, who end up obese with rotting teeth and depression, having to pump themselves with insulin thanks to the diabetes they now have.

Approach: Environmental Enemy

Then last November, Bogusky came back with a second punch, this time in the form of a SodaStream commercial. The fast-growing Israeli seltzer maker company hired the advertising creative for its first global ad campaign, which attacked soda companies from the environmental angle. The Hollywood-quality 30-second spot juxtaposes crates of bottled soda exploding for every batch of SodaStream seltzer made at home. By the end of the "The SodaStream Effect" spot the company reminds consumers of the environmental and financial benefit of snubbing the soda companies: "With SodaStream you can save 2,000 bottles a year."

Related: Will Watching These Sad Bears Get Fat Finally Make You Put Down The Soda?;
What Coke’s New Ads Mean For Brands And Consumers

[Image: Flickr user Linh H. Nguyen]

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2 Comments

  • GreenandClean

    Drinks containing natural sugars such as Agarve are clearly the way forwards.  Or manually sugar your drinks with honey. Easy.

  • dolphins78

    Even though more people are becoming aware of how sugar really affects somebody's health, I think drink brands have a huge opportunity to compete against Coke and other established brands simply by using real sugar in their drinks and advertising that fact. 

    Between HFCS and natural sugar, people will choose sugar.

    Now, there's a lot to be said for avoiding sugar, but it should be limited to an infrequent treat, not something to be used in every meal.