NEW YORK — Coca-Cola is taking on obesity, this time with an online video showing how fun it could be to burn the 140 calories in a can of its soda.
In the ad, the world's biggest beveragemaker asks what would happen if people paid for a can of Coke by first working off the calories it contained. The ad, which notes it typically takes 23 minutes of cycling to burn those calories, shows a montage of people on a giant stationary bicycle happily trying to earn a can of Coke, with carnival music playing in the background.
The video is unusual because it frankly addresses how many calories are in a 12-ounce can of Coke. But it also takes a frequent criticism made by health advocates and spins it in a happy light.
"It's so clever on so many levels, but it's twisted, too," said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back.
Simon said she thought the video was a response to the recently released movie Fed Up, which is critical of the food industry's marketing tactics. In the movie, a health advocate states that a child would have to bike for an hour and 15 minutes to burn off the 240 calories in a 20-ounce bottle of Coke.
Coca-Cola's video comes as soft drinks face growing criticism from health advocates, who say they fuel obesity and chronic diseases related to diet. Numerous cities have tried to impose special taxes on sugary drinks, though none has succeeded, in large part because of heavy lobbying by the beverage industry.
In New York City, the Board of Health this week asked the state's highest court to reinstate a 16-ounce limit on sugary drinks sold in restaurants, stadiums and other venues. The measure, championed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was knocked down by a judge after a lawsuit was filed led by the beverage industry.
Coca-Cola addressed obesity for the first time in a TV ad last year. That ad had a serious tone, with a voice-over stating weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind, not just soda.
That argument is frequently used by food companies, which tend to stress the need for physical activity and moderation when addressing criticism about the nutritional content of their products. But health advocates say that glosses over the reality that many people are simply consuming too many calories and that it would be unrealistic for them to try to offset that with exercise, especially given people's increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
Coca-Cola spokeswoman Judith Snyder said the latest video is part of a series that shows "moments of delight and surprise" with Coke. It's intended to address the theme of energy balance in a lighthearted way, she said.
The video will be promoted on Facebook and Twitter but won't run on TV, Snyder said.
Laura Ries, president of the brand consulting firm Ries & Ries, said the video could backfire because people might be turned off by the idea they would need to cycle for 23 minutes to burn off a can of Coke.
"They're showing exactly why you wouldn't want to drink a Coke. Twenty-three minutes on a bike is not fun for most people," she said.