In the wake of declining diet soda sales, Coca-Cola has been using a new ad campaign to fight the idea that diet soda is a major cause of obesity in the U.S. The newest ad in their lineup defends aspartame, the artificial sweetener that has recently become very controversial. Conflicting reports argue both that aspartame is harmless and that it can cause many health conditions such as cancer. Coke is actively working to fight negative ideas about aspartame, but they are facing backlash from many who believe Coke is too biased to tell the truth.
The ad shows two women enjoying a bottle of Diet Coke and states at the top “Quality products you can always feel good about.” At the bottom, the ad becomes much more detailed with paragraph text explaining the safety of Diet Coke: “Our use of high-quality, low- and no- calorie sweeteners, including aspartame, allows us to give people great-tasting options they can feel good about. Time and again, these low- and no-calorie sweeteners have shown to be safe, high-quality alternatives to sugar. In fact, the safety of aspartame is supported by more than 200 studies over the last 40 years.” The defense of aspartame is very cut and dry rather than subtle; it gets right to the point in defending the ingredient against critics.
Due to the current statistics on diet soda sales, Coke is really feeling a need to proactively defend controversial ingredients such as aspartame rather than remain silent. In 2012, sales for Diet Coke fell 3% compared to only 1% for Coke. Diet Pepsi fell by 6.2%, while Pepsi only fell 3.4%. While the FDA has declared aspartame safe and aspartame has not actually been linked to any forms of cancer, many consumers still believe that aspartame can both lead to obesity and have other unknown effects in the long run. This led to the start of Coke’s campaign to advertise the safety of their drinks and encourage consumers to continue drinking diet soda.
Despite Coke striving to stick to the facts, there have been many vocal critics of the ad. Andy Bellatti, a dietician in Las Vegas, has argued that aspartame keeps consumers addicted to products such as Diet Coke, and that safety does not equal nutrition. He also argues that Coke pushing education about nutrition is a conflict of interest. In addition to Bellatti, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit that routinely criticizes Coca-Cola, is making the stronger statement that aspartame has caused serious negative effects in lab animals and could be similarly unsafe for humans.
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