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AdTastic: Cheap Soda’s an American Right, Dammit!

April 14th, 2010 · 14 Comments

If you live outside the New York area, then you may not know that there’s currently a small furor erupting over a proposed “soda tax” that would charge one penny per ounce on sugary beverages. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that furor is coming mostly from the beverage industry, which is trying to argue that cheap Mountain Dew is fundamental to America’s values.

Take a look at this commercial, which is basically playing around the clock on local stations. Even if you don’t live in a community that could be affected by the soda tax, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the hysteria bubbling just beneath this ad…

I mean… right? It’s like a primer on how to create a biased political commercial. Let’s break down its tactics one by one…

(1) When In Doubt, Shriek It Out

Based on the tone of this ad, I’m guessing that the folks at the American Beverage Association, who paid for the spot, know that sugar-added drinks aren’t really essential to anyone’s life. In fact, I’ll wager they know that Pepsi and Coke and Country Time Lemondae, despite their tastiness, actually make life a little bit worse, since they blast nutrient-free calories into our veins like diabetes cannons.

I mean, they must know, right? Why else would this ad try so hard to convince us we should be angry? As the actress moves around her bright and sunny kitchen, you can practically hear her director shouting, “Shriller! Whinier! Shriekier!” Since her words don’t hold any real power, she has to convince us with her voice and her silent-movie-sized facial expressions.

(2) Use Ambiguity to Pander to As Many Demographics As Possible

Economically, this ad is trying to have it all.

If you’re well-off, for instance, then you might identify with this woman’s enormous kitchen. Along with the blurry view of the yard that we see through the window, the cavernous space suggests a family that lives in a cozy suburb, hidden away from problems like roaches, stalled F trains, and poverty. The goal is to have wealthy and middle-class families see this tableau and say, “Why, that woman could be my neighbor! If she hates this tax, then so do I! Let’s go buy some Kool-Aid and add some extra sugar before we give it to the kids. That’ll show ‘em!”

But what if you’re living in, oh, government housing in the Bronx? Have no fear! This woman keeps insisting she’s on a budget, and she makes a big stink about the extra five dollars on her grocery bill after she buys powdered lemonade. You know who doesn’t care about an extra five dollars here or there? Well-to-do suburbanites who might live in a kitchen like this. But a poor family? They might care. And the ad has to hit that base.

(Also… think how different this ad would be if it were set in a cramped, low-income apartment. It would risk alienating wealthier viewers, which just wouldn’t do. But what happens when a poorer viewer sees an obviously comfortable woman arguing on their behalf? What does the ad hope will happen?)

Meanwhile, this ad is as carefully ambiguous about race as it is abotu economics. It is no accident that this actress is vaguely ethnic, in that Hollywood way that says Benjamin Bratt can play a Native American. And if you’ll notice, her kid appears to be of a different ethnicity. This is another strategy for making the ad seem universally applicable.

(3) Stay Casual With Facts

Did you notice that the actress says Governor Paterson wants to add a tax on juice? I’ll admit, the first time I heard that, it got my attention. I don’t drink soda, but I do drink juice… so I wondered if this tax might even affect me, as a person who tries to drink healthier beverages.

However, I haven’t been able to find the “juice fact” stated by anything except vehement anti-tax websites. I’ve read that the tax will apply to fruit juice with sugar added, yes, but that’s not the same thing. Of course, splitting those hairs would make the rage in the commercial seem less pure, and it would only underline the fact that this tax would only be levied against beverages that have little to no nutritional value.

Tags: AdTastic · Television

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 adam807 // Apr 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    There’s a radio spot for a state senator who’s opposed to this, where the poor, beleaguered consumer says “This will raise my grocery bills by 50%!” Um, or you could just stop buying fucking soda, which is a luxury item, not a staple. There’s also something in there about how people will lose their jobs if this goes through, which I don’t understand AT ALL. Then they talk about Governor Patterson being a moron, which is true, so it’s full of conflict for me.

  • 2 ferretrick // Apr 14, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I also find the calculator that comes in at the 17 sec. mark interesting. They have to justify that questionable $5/week figure, so it adds fruit drink + lemonade + ginger ale…but no Coke, Pepsi, or even if they can’t use the brand name, cola. I mean, ginger ale is a soda, but is it just me or is it the most inocuous choice they could have made to represent a soda? Doesn’t ginger ale conjur up images of your grandma & grandpa? There’s so much negative publicity about sugary sodas and their role in childhood obesity now, that using a soda people actually drink in 2010 might make their TV Mom look like a bad mother. Can’t do that!

    Also, does ANYONE really buy/need lemonade, fruit drink, and ginger ale every week?

  • 3 sam // Apr 14, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Every time I see this commercial, I end up shouting at the lady that maybe she should teach her kids to just drink more water.

  • 4 Roommate Joe // Apr 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Guy, guys, I think we’re all missing the most important aspect of this ad: there’s an “American Beverage Association”! Are these the people who decided that pomegranate juice was the new hot thing? Are they in possession of the top-secret formula for Mr. Pibb? I say we shake this lady down for any information she may have on this shadowy organization!

  • 5 adam807 // Apr 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    The accent is a nice touch too. “I have a giant kitchen but I tawk like dis so you know I’m a real New Yawkuh!”

  • 6 Mark Blankenship // Apr 14, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Joe! You’re right. I have SO many questions for the ABA. (Wait, that’s the American Bar Association. Maybe they’re one and the same!)

    (1) Whom did the pomegranate farmers piss off? Because as we’ve discussed, they didn’t last long as the latest providers of miracle juice. How did they lose their throne to the acai berry people so quickly?

    (2) Are there secret rooms full of Crystal Pepsi? Is it now a drink that’s only enjoyed by the elite?

    (3) What was their role in getting Dr. Pepper into bubble gum in the 80s?

  • 7 Collin H // Apr 15, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Is it weird that the part of the commercial that bugs me the most is Drew? The way Crazy Lady says “Thanks Drew!” leads me to believe that Drew is not her son, but some grocery store bagboy that she tipped extra to actually come home with her and carry her groceries into the house for her.

    I’m not really inclined to listen to Crazy Lady’s views on budgeting money if she’s not thrifty enough to carry in her own bottle of Ginger Ale.

    On a somewhat related note, Dewmocracy 2010 has begun! I’m always a sucker for trying out new soda flavors, but must we pit these poor baby sodas against each other in a bloodthirsty popularity contest? They’re too young to have to fight for their lives! Why can’t we vote on getting rid of aging sodas that need to go? How about Fresca, Tab, and 7up?

  • 8 Will // Apr 16, 2010 at 1:56 am

    It’s interesting how so many commenters have no problem with the government making their moral decisions for them. Why soda? is it really so bad, or is it just the new target? what about toilet paper tax, because you use too much and trees are sparse? or a charcoal tax, because it pollutes? or a bottled water tax for all that plastic?

    This is an excise tax on a vice, just like cigarettes and alcohol. It pisses me off that the government will choose a particular product to tax. Imagine how silly it would be if there wear suddenly a demin tax, because it was reported that jeans were low-class. Or a tax on headbands because they’re out of style. It’s totally arbitrary. Paterson is pointing a finger at soda and calling it evil. So let’s tax it!

    And for all the left -leaners, sugar-added drinks are purchased in massive quantities by low-income families. Wouldn’t you rather have a cuff-link tax? or a high-end moisturizer tax?

    Marc is totally right that the commercial does a great job of appealing to many. I happen to agree with some of the points it makes. If I lived in NY, I would vote again’ it. Too bad I’m in CA, where there is simply no escape from many many taxes.

  • 9 Mark Blankenship // Apr 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Will –

    As I understand it, the soda tax exists not only to raise money for the government, but also to address New York State’s devastating obesity problem. I’d argue you’re making an illogical comparison by equating this type of tax with a tax on out-of-fashion headbands. Bad style never killed anyone. Diabetes induced by rampant sugar consumption certainly did.

    You’re closer to a direct comparison when you make your point about the environmental taxes… if coal consumption hurts us and soda consumption hurts us, then why not tax both? Except that coal consumption,despite its ills, does provide some kind of benefit to society: Heat and energy improve our quality of life. Sugar-added beverages, however, add nothing positive to the quality of life. They make us less healthy.

    In taxing things like soda, alcohol, and cigarettes—things which have no positive impact on our health—the government isn’t taking away any kind of freedom, but it is making it a little bit harder to consume dangerously unhealthy products. Are there flaws and hypocrisies in this kind of tax? Yes. But at its core, it’s something I can support.

  • 10 KC // Apr 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I cannot support government action that assumes responsibility for decision-making in the “best interest” of it’s citizens. The people of this country are greatly lacking in personal responsibility and this kind of tax does nothing to change that. I feel the same way about similar “vice” taxes.

  • 11 cynth // Apr 19, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Mark said “As I understand it, the soda tax exists not only to raise money for the government, but also to address New York State’s devastating obesity problem. I’d argue you’re making an illogical comparison by equating this type of tax with a tax on out-of-fashion headbands. Bad style never killed anyone. Diabetes induced by rampant sugar consumption certainly did.”

    Except that rampant sugar consumption doesn’t cause diabetes or obesity.

  • 12 Mark Blankenship // Apr 19, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Cynth,

    I stand partially corrected. Upon reading your comment, I found this information at the American Diabetes Association’s website, which does indeed state that sugar is not a cause of diabetes.:

    And sure, rampant sugar consumption may not “cause” obesity—which you’ll notice I didn’t actually say—but I’m sure that we can all agree that rampant sugar consumption contributes to obesity. Obesity, after all, is partially the result of caloric overconsumption mixed with limited physical activity. And if there’s one thing that sugar-sweetened soft drinks bring to our lives—whether they’re sweetened with straight-up sugar or high fructose corn syrup—it’s additional calories.

    That’s the root of my argument here: Hight-calorie soft drinks do nothing good for us. They pump calories into our systems without providing us with any nutritional value. None. And the excess consumption of empty calories is certainly contributing to New York (and America’s) crippling obesity problem. So… since these sodas do nothing but give us calories we don’t need—without providing any other nutritional value—they are nothing but a damaging vice. In minor doses, they are harmless. In large doses, they are contributors to obesity. Maybe if they are specially taxed, more people will be economically forced to consume them in smaller doses. And if that happens, maybe those people will start drinking more water or milk or fruit juice. Or at least diet soda. And then maybe those people will curb a vice, consume fewer calories that have no nutritional value, and then lose a little weight. And then maybe they’ll be less at risk for diabetes.

    To me, that is only a good thing.

    And let me add a little anecdotal evidence: Until 2002, I was obese, but that year, I lost over 60 pounds. My first step toward weight loss was cutting all the soda out of my diet. I was drinking three to five cans a day, and then I just stopped. I didn’t change my eating habits, and I didn’t start exercising. (Those steps came later.) From January to March of 2002, I just replaced all the soda in my diet with water. And in three months, I lost 15 pounds. If higher tax forces other people into that situation, then I can’t possibly oppose it.

  • 13 Jeff C // Apr 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    The longuyland lady in the commercial is right – there are so many places New York State could cut spending. It has a Rolls Royce budget on a old Ford Taurus economy. Before they start taxing arbitrarily (and Will is right, this is terribly regressive and will be borne by the poorest), they need to cut the fat out of the state payroll and target the public unions, like Christie is doing in New Jersey.

  • 14 Mark Blankenship // Apr 19, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Jeff, I can see parts of your argument, even if I disagree with them.

    But let me take us a bit off topic…

    Arguing against this tax because it will be “borne by the poorest” strikes me as a disingenuous attempt to suggest that people who support this tax (or don’t oppose it) are somehow elitist. As though there’s something about being poor that makes a person inherently want to drink soda and that inherent desire shouldn’t be trampled on by the wealthy elite up in Albany.

    More to the point, that argument suggests there’s something virtuous about opposing this tax… as though fighting it somehow protects or ennobles the poor citizens of New York by putting cheap cans of Mountain Dew in the hands of their children.

    Am I missing something here?

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