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Diet Coke’s Advertising Embarrassment: “You’re On!”

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Fragment of glass cola with ice
If so, on what?
The last time the Coca-Cola Company heard this much ridicule, it was 1985 and New Coke had just been introduced. It was pulled from the market less than three months after its debut. This time it was Diet Coke’s new slogan: “You’re On!”
The ad campaign, which ran this past spring, presented Diet Coke as a pick-me-up for upwardly mobile young people, akin to an energy drink. A billboard described it as “how go-getters get going.” A print ad said: “You’ve got an 8 a.m. interview, a perfect black suit and three letters in your future: CEO.”
Bloggers pointed out that in some ads, “You’re on” appeared above the Diet Coke logo, and the resulting tagline, “You’re on Diet Coke,” evoked a cocaine habit along with the history of Diet Coke’s sibling, Coca-Cola, which once included cocaine as an ingredient. The ads received so much mocking and japery that Coke took all the ads down and buried the campaign.
When you drink a diet Coke, you’re actually “on” a significant number of chemicals that cause a cascade of unwanted effects in the human body. Diet Coke has the following ingredients:

  • caramel color E150d, which contains carcinogens;
  • caffeine, which is fine in limited amounts but in higher amounts can increase blood pressure, reduce control of fine motor movements, increase cortisol secretion, cause anxiety, and accelerate bone loss in postmenopausal women;
  • phosphoric acid, which inhibits the body’s ability to use calcium, leading to osteoporosis; and
  • The artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame-K; as noted in our article on artificial sweeteners, aspartame can turn to formaldehyde at high temperatures.

A study presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology found that women who drink diet sodas are much more likely develop heart disease and even die than other women. Women who consumed two or more diet drinks a day were 30% more likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular “event,” and were 50% more likely to die than women who rarely drink diet sodas.
Peter R. Orszag—former director of the Office of Management and Budget, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, and diet coke drinker—dismissed the study because the women who drank diet soda were more likely to be obese and smokers than other women. Orszag acknowledges, however, that the researchers used a statistical model to adjust for the adverse health of these variables and still found a correlation! (Such statistical modeling to adjust for other factors is a common practice used in many studies.)
Orszag claims that the study merely shows correlation and not causality and recommends that a double blind placebo study be conducted to establish causality. Such a suggestion is patently ridiculous! Who would do such a study? Who would supply the millions of dollars to fund it? Coca-Cola? They have no interest in funding a study that could possibly show their product in a negative light.
In addition, Orszag is wrong about there not being enough hard evidence:

  • A joint study from the University of Miami and Columbia University found that individuals who drank diet soft drinks were 43% more likely to suffer vascular events than those who drank none—and this is accounting for preexisting conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  • A University of Texas study found that drinking two or more diet sodas a day made the drinkers’ waists grow 70% more than non-drinkers—five belt sizes, on average. The study, presented at a American Diabetes Association meeting, found that artificial sweeteners trigger appetite, but unlike regular sugars, they don’t deliver something to squelch the appetite. Both diet and regular sodas also either don’t send or interfere with signals to your brain that tell you you’re full.
  • A Harvard Medical School study found that women who drank two or more diet sodas per day demonstrated more palpable loss of kidney function. Another study tested on 10,000 adults given just one diet soda per day had a 34% increase in metabolic disturbances.

It may contain fewer calories, but diet soda is anything but a “healthy alternative” to regular soda. And regular soda is one of the worst things you can consume. If you need a pick-me-up, the best plan is to bottle your own weak, unsweetened green tea. You will also save a lot of money.

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