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What does a Coke cost?

June 9, 2014

Exploring the obesity issue in what some consider a bizarre way, Coca-Cola released an online ad detailing how 23 minutes of cycling burns off a 12-ounce can of Coke.

The ad, called "Happy Cycle," first plays to nostalgia, showing vintage videos of soda fountains and noting that Coke used to cost five cents. It then asks: "What if a 12 oz. Coke cost 140 calories?", noting that it takes 23 minutes of cycling (on average for a 140-pound person) to burn off the 140 calories found in a 12-ounce can.

Shifting to a carnival-like atmosphere, the video shows people on a giant stationary bike peddling furiously to earn a can of Coke. At the end of the video, the phrase "Movement is happiness" appears on the screen, followed by, "Where will happiness strike next?"

[Image: Coke Happy Cycle]

Soft drinks have faced growing criticism over their role in fueling obesity. Coke first addressed the obesity issue in a TV ad in January 2013, but the ad was done in a serious tone. "Happy Cycle," which is part of the brand's "Where Will Happiness Strike Next?" campaign, was seen as Coke's first attempt to address obesity inside the upbeat messages the brand is known for.

"We loved the idea that instead of costing money, what if your ice-cold Coca-Cola cost 140 calories?" said Wendy Clark, president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing, Coca-Cola North America, in a statement. "The real people in this film had a blast while burning calories. All calories count and we want to help our fans and consumers better understand the role of energy balance in their lives. This film is a lighthearted, engaging and memorable way to do just that."

Some felt the ad would backfire by stating exactly how much physical exertion is required to work off a can of coke. Others felt 23 minutes was far from enough time to cut those calories.

The ad will be promoted on Facebook and Twitter, but won't run on TV.


Discussion Questions:

What are the pros and cons of Coke addressing obesity issues in commercials? What do think of the "Happy Cycle" online video?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What grade would you give Coke for its ‘Happy Cycle' online video?


The "pros" are that Coca-Cola is seen as a company that isn't in denial on the obesity issue. And, if you believe the argument, it would seem that individuals with healthy lifestyles could enjoy a Coke and not worry about packing on the pounds.

The "cons" are that Coca-Cola is acknowledging that intake of soft drinks is linked to obesity and that the "23 minute" claim may seem a tad unrealistic to some. It will also undoubtedly spawn a series of tests to validate or upset the conclusion and a rash of news stories to chronicle those tests.

As to the spot itself it fails in my mind on two counts: first, it seems like a needlessly complex argument and second, it fails to deliver the more powerful message, i.e., Coke has been around forever but obesity -- particularly widespread juvenile obesity -- is a rather recent phenomenon.

The direct linkage to ingestion of calories from drinking soft drinks and gaining weight which can then be burned off best by intense exercise may weaken the real message the brand might hope the public will ... to borrow a phrase ... swallow.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

First, who would want to open that can that's just been tossed and rolled around? :)

The first rule of propaganda management is never refute negative propaganda. The second rule is to never acknowledge negative propaganda. Suggesting that exercising for 20 minutes is enough to burn off the Coke is only going to work among those who exercise a lot more daily (and they are the ones less likely to drink a can of Coke vs something non-fattening).

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Good public relations may be a pro, but the real issue is the con. The video is without a doubt very creative but will not scale. That may be the con.

How does a company like Coca-Cola reinvent itself into a better lifestyle company? It cannot. So this may be a one off and a very thrilling ad, but not realistic. Can you imagine bikes at Baskin Robins, Dairy Queen, and McDonald's? If calories become the new exchange rate, I am going to be very poor indeed!

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

I think it's a bizarre commercial, really. I don't know why they wouldn't have shown the "saved" calories in a Diet Coke as an alternative.

But hey...people love the stuff...so who am I to judge?

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Pros: Coke acknowledges its products and obesity are related, but that can be overcome if they are bicycle-orientated.

Cons: Coke's logic, unlike its beverage, is hard to swallow. Fat folks don't like to pedal the bike pedals or sit on those funny uncomfortable seats.

The "Happy Cycle" online video is an attempt to appease health advocates re non-essential calorie intake and Coke's stockholders re essential cash flow.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

Coke is making an effort to soften the blow that the food police have dealt them recently, and may win a few people over with this video, but the public now knows about the dangers of too much sugar. Again, I must defer to common sense on this, as an occasional soft drink won't make you fat, but believe me, I see friends chugging a six pack a day of pop, and that is just not healthy.

I don't want my politicians badgering everybody and making laws that make us look like criminals for buying a large polar pop from Circle K. On the other hand, it is up to good parenting to get kids to enjoy other alternative drinks, that don't cause problems later on in life such as diabetes. Coke and Pepsi are HUGE sponsors of major sporting and entertainment venues, and I don't see them going quietly into the night, which is why they are trying to promote this video in the first place.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Have to admire Coca Cola's creativity here, but not sure how well this will actually play out. This spot stays with Coke's happy theme even though they are dealing with obesity in an indirect way. The pros are they make earning a Coke fun, social, inviting endeavor that acknowledges that the real cost is caloric and not the money.

The cons are it may be perceived as taking lightly the seriousness of the obesity issue and that we need a fabricated carnival-type "ride" to be happy with the decision to have a Coke.

On a personal level, the spot does not work for me. I've kicked the habit five years ago and am "happily" sticking to water. It's a healthier alternative (and Coca Cola sells that as well).

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Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP

Addressing the obesity issue and promoting exercise are both worthy goals. However, it also reminds people that Coke may not be a healthy choice. Knowing that it takes 23 minutes of cycling is one thing; motivating people to do the 23 minutes is something else. Is guilt a strong motivator? From your mother maybe. From Coke, maybe not.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

The pros: It is a creative and entertaining commercial. I really like the Rube Goldberg aspect of it.

The cons: The message will be interpreted backwards. The intend is to reward yourself if you expend the calories. I believe many will interpret it as "OMG, I drink 3 cans of Coke a week. That means I have to cycle for an hour. Good-bye Coke."

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

This obesity thing just amazes me. As I ride my no pedals bike to different parts of the country and stop at my favorite food joint - McDonald's - and listen to what people order, it is shocking. Most of these people will never get on a bike. So Coke can try this spin but give up. People who like their select foods and bevs will keep eating and drinking them - no matter the ads, TV shows on losing weight, or advice.

Sad but true...and no ads make it pretty.

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Tom Redd, Global Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

From a pure marketing standpoint, Coke would have been wiser to ignore the issue entirely, and not bring it up. It just makes people think about those empty calories more. I exercise a fair amount, but if I knew I had to hit the bike or treadmill for 23 minutes just for a can of Coke, I mean, no way. I instantly thought, "This ad would truly be honest if it showed people riding that bike for the full 23 minutes." Yeah, that would be really boring to watch, but it would also drive the real point home.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

What a fizzy, slippery slope. As the lead says: "Exploring the obesity issue in what some consider a bizarre way, Coca-Cola released an online ad detailing how 23 minutes of cycling burns off a 12-ounce can of Coke." Then it tries to juxtapose the data from old cost/new cost, divided by how many minutes for what size can of Coke. Whoa! This is way too much, trying to tie in a serious health issue with a soft drink. I didn't notice. Was it sugar-free? And, while the obese participants in the commercial had fun, I doubt that most other simple obese people that didn't appear in the commercial would cop to "having fun" burning off calories.

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

In the '50s I was a "soda jerk" at my dad's drugstore. The 5 cent fountain Coke was 6 ounces. And we put some ice in the glass so probably less than that. There was a larger 10 cent Coke, but most people ordered the regular size. Today Coke has an 8 oz can but it usually costs the same or more than the 12 oz. Point being that the typical serving size has doubled.

Not relevant to this topic, but typically a 12 oz can of Coke costs about 35 cents today. That's only 3.5x what it was in the '50s when the minimum wage was 60 cents an hour. Anything else we buy only 3.5x what it cost in the '50s? (I also remember the 8 oz short drafts at the local bar that were 10 cents.)


Following the claim made in the commercial, it will take 57 minutes of cycling to burn the calories in a 32-oz. super-size soft drink served with a typical fast-food meal. That's longer than I spend on my elliptical trainer on a good day.

We might reasonably argue that a Coke is OK as an occasional sweet treat. (I enjoy one from time to time myself.) But if you are working to lower your caloric consumption, water or unsweetened tea is a far better bargain.

Coca-Cola must know most of us know this already. Its "Happy Cycle" commercial transmits an upbeat vibe, and it's certainly creative, but it doesn't alter the cold equations about calories from sugar.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

I am not convinced that equating a Coke to physical exertion is a smart move. It draws attention to the fact that the calories need to be burned off...which many people aren't prepared to do.

Raising awareness about the metabolic consequences of consuming Coke is not in the brand's interests. This ad seems like the brainchild of an enthusiastic planner who was thinking in the short term.

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Liz Crawford, SVP, Strategy & Insights, Head of ShopLab, Match Drive

Bad ad. Says we know drinking our product can be a bad thing for your health. Oh, by the way if you ride a bike for 23 minutes you will have burned of the calories from consuming our product. Couple details - a relatively small portion of the population actually rides bikes and secondly, for many that will seen like a lot of exercise to remove the impact of drinking one Coke.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

Coke should not have done anything if this is what they decided to come out with. So fifty years ago Coke cost 5 cents. Today the same coke from a vending machine has to be close to a dollar. Fifty years ago we had more of an outdoors lifestyle and were more physically fit. Today we spend more time indoors and, depending on age, play video games. Lastly, how many people who only weigh 140 pounds or less are worried about the number of calories one has to burn in order to drink one can of coke? This is silly to me.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I don't think there are any "pros" to this: the obvious fact that something approaching 100% of Coke's consumers won't be cycling those 23 minutes - or any minutes - merely supports critics. The reality for Coke is that "healthy" levels of consumption wouldn't support their current level of sales, let alone allow for growth, so their only real hope is that the issue goes away.


Coke is heading down a path that confuses consumers, and the message can be interpreted and misinterpreted in a few directions. Bottom line, Coke can be part of a happy lifestyle, and should focus on the enjoyment.

This confusing message in the video will worry a few people as they decide whether or not they can "afford" the calories.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

I truly applaud Coke on this move! I'm not so sure it is about addressing obesity, but rather about being transparent about the brand. This and healthy resonate well with the Gen Yers.

They will look at this ad and they will get the right message. This a generation where sports Moms are booed if they bring unhealthy snacks to practices. They also have learned that they can reward themselves from time to time.

There will always be those who just can't and/or won't embrace the healthy life, but it won't be because the information was not right in their faces...and that's my 2 cents!

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

People have been drinking Coke far longer than the epidemic of obesity. There's more to this problem than drinking soda. Therefore, associating your product with a major health issue lacks wisdom.


This is great commercial - highly creative and rightly timed. Who does not know about hazards of drinking too much Coke? So why not show it in the right spirit? I think this is a great stance taken by the marketing geniuses at Coke.

AmolRatna Srivastav, VP, Accenture

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