You're Fat AND Stupid


Some weeks ago we all got to enjoy a bit of corporate comeuppance.

Remember the Coca-Cola ad campaign last year featuring Sea Change actress Kerry Armstrong as a "Myth-buster"? In big print ads she appeared as a "concerned mum" determined to defend Coke against the vile slander that drinking it isn’t very good for you, earning a rumoured $70,000 for this service to society.

On the face of it, you might think a good actress was making some decent money presenting the facts about a healthy beverage — and everyone’s a winner, right? Yes, you might think that, but only if you’re a complete idiot.

The intention of last year’s campaign was to bust a few "myths" about the links between Coke’s product and health risks for kids. The welcome clarification sought to resolve these four critical questions: is Coke "full of added preservatives and artificial flavours"?; does it really "make you fat"?; could it really be "packed with caffeine"?; and the total game changer, could Coca-Cola really "rot your teeth"?

These big questions have had us all sitting up late into the night wondering. Though there were initial complaints from some health-loving killjoys, the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) had no problems with the ad. The ASB of course is an industry self-regulating body — no one knows advertising truthiness better than the ASB.

Presented like a community announcement, it turns out some of the "facts" stated by actor Kerry Armstrong were overly simplistic. By simple I mean that answering all the questions above with "No, no, no and no" was insufficient. So just a few months later the government-run Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that Coke had misled the public and demanded it run a far less interesting advertising campaign.

This includes: the publication of a corrective advertisement in The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Courier Mail, The Adelaide Advertiser, The West Australian, and The Hobart Mercury. As well as that, it is obliged to run a corrective advertisement for a period of 28 days on their consumer PR site, another notice for six months on the same site with the correct levels of caffeine for Coca-Cola, Diet Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero, and compare this with the real levels of caffeine in the same amounts of tea brewed from leaf or teabag and instant coffee.

The ACCC also obliged the company to take a good look at trade practices law to avoid similar mistakes in the future. (And maybe the ASB could use a refresher course too.)

Unfortunately, anyone who was looking forward to seeing Coke say "Sorry, what we told you was a load of balls", will find their "setting the record straight" ads bitterly disappointing, assuming they can locate the link to it on their site. According to the ads, the ACCC’s findings (which forced their publication) were just friendly "feedback", and that well, ok, the Kerry Armstrong campaign could have been a bit clearer, so they’re doing this new ad because they want to.

But thank goodness it’s there. It really clears up those unsettling doubts I had. This "setting the record straight" approach is excellent for concerned parents. They’ll no longer be left wondering what to think, now that corporations or government bodies are rigorously clarifying what’s what. Since it’s perfectly safe now to believe everything on TV, I’ve started watching just for the ads, and find myself remarking, "F*ck me — I can eat Subway sandwiches every day and get un-fat! I did not know that," and "Wow — I’d have much better luck chasing skirt if I started using Lynx …"

It amazes me that anyone giving kids Coke could imagine it to be anything but flavoured syrup with no nutritional value. That’s not to say it’s wrong for kids to drink it. What’s wrong is that parents could be so naïve about what’s really in this lolly-water. (Of course, that may be difficult to ascertain since Coke won’t divulge the content of their products. Geez — maybe that should be another factor in a person’s decision on whether or not to consume it …)

In the absence of useful information like this from the company, you might like to read up on what happens to your body within the first hour of drinking Coke (and then for laughs you could replicate the experiment by giving it to a child you don’t like much). But for goodness sake, can we please dispense with this infantile charade? Does anyone really think that advertisers "explain things" for busy parents who may not "realise" or have time to think about these matters?

Instead, how about we pick a few more complex targets to start mandating a few explanatory ads on — like baby formula. Or sodium lauryl sulfate — next time you visit your bathroom, check how many products contain SLS. Or aspartame, used in Coke’s cousin, Coke Zero.

No, that’s probably too complicated. Return to your television screens and resume consuming the left-over compound chocolate. Oh look, Twitter!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.