Coke’s ‘happy’ activities ad ruled inadmissible to Britain’s more accurate airwaves

Posted by
July 23, 2013

The Brits appear to take the integrity of their advertising as seriously as they do the line of succession to the throne, if their response to Coke’s “happy” activities ad is any example, The commercial,which I reported on in an April blog, “A spoonful of HFCS is neither ‘OK’ nor especially happy,” has recently been banned in the United Kingdom – a definite blow to Coke, which released it under the pretense of a promise to tackle “obesity head on.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the U.K.’s “independent regulator of advertising across all media,” received ten consumer complaints saying that each of the “happy” activities shown would not be enough to burn off the 139 calories in the can (interestingly, the U.S., version has it at 140 calories.)

The commercial starts out with a can of Coke, an equal sign, and the statement “140 happy calories to spend on extra happy activities.” It goes on to depict young, fit and fun-loving folks walking a dog, dancing, laughing, and doing a “victory dance.” and ends by showing not just a can of regular 140-calorie coke, but a can of Coke Zero as well, with the message “calories optional. ”A caveat also adds that “calories burned may vary.”

Apparently the ASA wasn’t fooled by the “calories burned may vary” disclaimer, and also didn’t feel that the plus sign after each activity was enough to convey the message that each and every activity needed to be done in order to burn off the beverage’s high fructose corn syrup calorie infusion. The Authority said as much in its decision, noting, “…we considered that it would not be clear to some viewers that it was the combination of all the activities depicted which would burn off 139 calories.” Also at issue were six complaints it received that the ads “implied a general health claim.”

The ASA reported that the response from Coca-Cola Great Britain was that  “the ad explicitly communicated that the activities featured needed to be done in combination to burn off the 139 calories in a can of Coke,” using “a plus (‘+’) sign between the activities and also an equals (‘=’) sign, which they considered clearly communicated that it was the sum of those activities that amounted to at least the 139 calories in a can of Coke.”

Calories of a different caliber

Of course, nowhere in this analysis as to whether laughing out loud for 75 seconds or walking your dog will burn off the calories consumed in a can of Coke is it mentioned that the calories from the HFCS used to sweeten this beverage (and just about every other non-diet soft drink) are, in the opinion of many experts, no mere conventional calories, but supercharged calories.

One such authority, Dr. Mark Hyman, a bestselling author, practicing physician and board chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine in Washington state, notes that the consumption of high fructose corn syrup, which went from zero to over 60 pounds per person per year, has coincided with “obesity rates (that) have more than tripled and diabetes incidence (increasing) more than sevenfold.”

Another, author, and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D. calls HFCS “a direct driver of obesity in kids,” and something he predicts is “going to turn out to be one of the very worst culprits in (our) diet.”

What Coke intends to do about its now ‘banned in Britain’ commercial, the company isn’t saying, except to dispute the idea that the spot represents a “health claim” by contending that it makes no connection “between the consumption of their products and good health or well-being…”

We couldn’t agree more.