Coca-Cola Has Done Some Great Stunts Lately, but ‘Happy Cycle’ Is a Disaster

Brand fails again on topic of health

Remember the good old days, when a Coca-Cola cost only a nickel, and people weren't always whining about how bad soda is for your health?

Coca-Cola does.

"A Coke used to cost 5 cents," says this new Coke ad. "But what if a 12-ounce Coke cost 140 calories?" the brand adds, in a head-scratcher of a rhetorical nonsequitur that's the perfect setup for the awkward answer that follows.

A 140-pound person would have to ride a bicycle for 23 minutes, on average, to burn off an equivalent amount of energy, according to the commercial. Of course, 140 pounds is only 56 pounds lighter than the average American man, and 26 pounds lighter than the average American woman, according to CDC data on body measurements.

In other words, welcome to Coca-Cola's fantasy world, where mostly fit young people are more than happy to climb onto a giant stationary bike in front of a crowd and sweat it out to earn a Coke, delivered by some kind of circus robot, cash and guilt free.

The online video is surreal mainly because it forces into relief the main criticism it's hoping to defuse—and, in a state of more or less total delusion, manages to make a case that supports the brand's detractors. The science is misleading, and the creative is depressing—suggesting exercise is a zero-sum game akin to a hamster on a wheel chasing a treat that will kill him, unless he runs ever longer.

"Movement is happiness," says the end line. Yet never has it seemed so bleakly transactional and dead-ending.

It's not the first time Coca-Cola's marketing has struggled to meet, head on, its health critics. It's also not the first time it's leaned on nostalgia as a means of deflecting blame for the rise in obesity. And for a brand that produces so much global advertising—much of it hitting the sort of pitch-perfect distraction that can help make the product more endearing—it's almost inevitable that some of its commercials will be flat-footed duds.

But while we're imagining an alternate universe where all of Coca-Cola's dreams come true, we might as well talk about the one where every single household object is made of empty Coke bottles.

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@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.