Video criticises soft drink marketing around the world

  • Spoof of a well-known cola advertisement made by CSPI, a US-based NGO, is drawing global attention; the video also has Hindi subtitles

  • Advertisement features real people suffering from diabetes and other ailments

  • CSE has been campaigning against sugary soft drinks and has linked these to health risks

  • Data from a study cited by CSPI says sugar drinks are causing 184,000 deaths worldwide every year and around 10,000 deaths in India

  • Cola companies are focusing on low and middle income countries

NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON, July 10, 2015: An advertisement made as a spoof of a cola ad known as Hilltop has gained worldwide attention as it features real people suffering from health ailments related to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has campaigned against as part of its food safety and toxins programme. The advertisement has been released with subtitles in several languages, including Hindi (click this link), by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a US-based NGO.

“With companies investing billions of dollars to maximise consumption of sugary soft drinks in India, as well as other low- and middle-income countries, those nations must take steps to protect the public’s health,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE, in New Delhi.

The advertisement features people suffering from diabetes, tooth decay, weight gain and other diseases related to soda pop consumption are starring in a remake of a famous Coca-Cola advertisement, Hilltop.  The new video is health advocates’ latest salvo in their campaign to reduce the incidence of obesity and other soda-related diseases around the world.  

A new study has estimated that sugar drinks are causing 184,000 deaths worldwide per year. Diabetes is the greatest cause of deaths (133,000), followed by heart disease (45,000). Mexico had the highest death rate—and about 24,000 deaths per year). The United States, Indonesia and Brazil had the next highest death rates. Even though consumption is still very low in India, the researchers estimated that sugar drinks are causing about 10,000 deaths per year.  

Coca-Cola’s Hilltop advertisement was first aired in 1971 in the United States and certain other countries and is certainly one of the most famous TV commercials ever broadcast.  “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” sang the original cast. “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.”  But according to the US-based nonprofit health-advocacy organisation behind the new video, the CSPI, it’s time to change the tune—and the lyrics.

“For decades, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other makers of sugar drinks have used sophisticated, manipulative advertising techniques to convince children and adults alike that a disease-promoting drink will make them feel happy and even sexy,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.  “And they are increasingly doing what the tobacco industry has done: marketing their unhealthy beverages in low- and middle-income countries.  They are spending billions of dollars in China, India, and other countries to increase sales and to distract people away from thoughts of obesity and diabetes.  As consumption increases, so will the harm caused by sugar drinks.  We thought it was time to change the tune.”

CSPI is providing versions of “Change the Tune” in English and with Spanish, Portuguese, French, Hindi, and Mandarin subtitles as a resource that health advocates around the world are using.  Already people are saying: Fabulous…Amazing…Wow!...Best sugary drink message I’ve ever seen…Brutal frankness…Big Soda brandjacked…Creative and powerful.  Publicizing the video are such groups as El Poder del Consumidor in Mexico, CSE in India, and Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor in Brazil.

Soda and other sugary drinks are being consumed more and more throughout the world.  Mexico, for instance, has overtaken America as the biggest consumer of sugar drinks—and the most overweight major nation.  The extra calories also increase the risks of diabetes, tooth decay, and heart disease—conditions experienced by the Americans who participated in the film.  

“It should be a global priority to substantially reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a senior author of the study on deaths due to sugar drinks and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

 “Soda is just one of several contributors to diet-related disease, but it’s a major one,” said Dr. Jeffry Gerber, a physician who appears in the film.  “I see the connection between soda consumption and chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity every day of the week.  It’s hard to ask patients to practice moderation when all of the advertising, marketing, and overall ubiquity of soda rewires people to overconsume sugary drinks.”

Alex Bogusky, a world-famous advertising producer, provided overall creative direction for the video.  He served the same role for The Real Bears, CSPI’s 2012 short film that showed an animated family of polar bears suffering the consequences of soda-related disease. Coca-Cola called it “irresponsible and the usual grandstanding from CSPI,” while Mark Bittman of the New York Times called it “Depressing, touching, and effective.” 

Please contact Souparno Banerjee ( / 9910864339) of The CSE Media Resource Centre.



Media Clippings

CSE urges govt to take steps to reduce soft drink consumption

The Economic Times (PTI), July 10, 2015