Skip to Content

Parody Makes an Impact


After an advertising campaign released last week spoofing the advertising of soft drink makers such as The Coca-Cola Company went viral, executives from the soft drink giant met with the organization behind the effort.

While there was a lot of discussion, changes from the industry giant are not expected in the short term.

“Unfortunately, this initial meeting with Coke representatives went pretty much as expected. While industry reps acknowledged the obesity epidemic, they do not seem to think that their sugary drink marketing contributes to the problem. We’ll keep pushing,” said Glenn Schneider, the chief program officer for The Horizon Foundation, the organization that produced the campaign.

Titled “There’s a Better Way,” the campaign is one of the latest efforts around the world to curb consumption of sugary drinks amid rising rates of diabetes and obesity.  Its tagline is “Because happiness doesn’t come in a red can. Obesity does.” It also made the rounds on social media with the hashtag “#BurpBetter.”

Schneider says its overall intent is to shift the paradigm by encouraging Coke to advertise the healthier beverages in its product line.

“We want them to be our ally in this,” Schneider says. “Our key message in this all along is Coke has brilliant marketers… what would happen if they chose to flip? What would happen if they spent two-thirds of their advertising budget on the healthier drinks they make?”

The parody is part of a larger public health campaign called Howard County Unsweetened that is aiming to reduce sugary drink consumption in Howard County, Md. The campaign’s Better Beverage Finder, for example, is an interactive widget that helps consumers find and make healthy beverage choices.

Both 30 and 90 second spots were produced and posted online last week. In addition, the campaign is spending $40,000 to air the ads on broadcast and cable markets in the Baltimore region over the next several weeks. Viewers are prompted to use the Better Beverage Finder at the end of the ad.

The ads have garnered notice from the media. The Baltimore Sun praised the effort in an editorial, while publications such as Advertising Age and Marketing Daily ran stories on the campaign.

The overall approach of Howard County Unsweetened is to help residents, especially parents, who often struggle to find healthy products. Education is needed, Schneider notes — while many parents don’t give their kids soda, they still offer them juices and sports drinks that also contain too much sugar.

“There are better choices out there, and we want to direct them to those choices and help them switch,” Schneider says. “We want to do so in a way that isn’t preachy, and is done in a way that they want to adopt.”

Finding the right way to reach parents is tricky. After focus groups found that parents “don’t like their fingers wagged at them,” the team decided to find ways to encourage folks to make healthier choices. Part of that included sending staffers into the community to talk to residents about the Better Beverage Finder.

That led to the idea for the ad, Schneider explains. Around the same time that Howard County Unsweetened started talking with local residents, Coca-Cola released an ad in which people went around in communities across the globe to hand out free cans and bottles of Coke in an attempt to help people “Open Happiness.”

“We thought this would be a great opportunity to focus attention on something other than Coke’s ‘Open Happiness’ idea. We decided to focus on the other side,” Schneider recalls. “It was sort of an opportunity that we couldn’t resist.”