When Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed his ban on large soft drinks in New York City on May 30, it sparked a debate about soft drinks and obesity that reached far beyond the five boroughs.
The next day, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s reacted to the mayor’s proposal. “New Yorkers expect and deserve better than this. They can make their own choices about the beverages they purchase,” said Coca-Cola in a statement. “Public health issues cannot be effectively addressed through a narrowly focused and misguided ban,” said McDonald’s in a statement.
Now, the first of three public hearings on the ban—which would apply to restaurants, street-side food carts, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and arenas, but not convenience, grocery or drug stores—is set for July 24.
To encourage New Yorkers to file a comment with the Department of Health before the hearings, 781 soft drink makers such as Coca-Cola; vendors; trade groups; and organizations like the National Association of Theatre Owners have formed New Yorkers for Beverage Choices to protect New Yorkers' right to buy beverages in any size they choose. With funding and leadership from the American Beverage Association, the coalition is leading a PR campaign to fight Bloomberg on the following five fronts:
Social media: Ban opponents have taken to the Web to point out inconsistencies within Bloomberg's anti-obesity crusade. On July 19, @CocaColaCo, which delivers Coca-Cola Company news, tweeted: "Why limit the size of soda but not alcohol? Joseph Califano shares his thoughts on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal. http://nydn.us/Mu8IPJ."
On July 4, tweets also poured in from coalition members tweaking Bloomberg for helping promote a gluttonous hot-dog-eating contest in which the he presided over the weigh-in.
TV and radio spots: A one-minute radio ad and a 30-second commercial promote New Yorkers' freedom to live in any neighborhood, root for any team, choose when to sleep and when to buy supersize drinks. "So are we going to let our mayor tell us what size beverage to buy? If we let him get away with this where will it end?” asks the video ad.
Airplane banners: New York beachgoers who flocked to the Rockaways and Coney Island on July 4 saw an airborne banner that delivered a terse message: “NO DRINK 4 U.” Perhaps the coalition should have sprung for a few more letters and included #NYCSodaBan for an added social media boost.
Marquee ads: Knowing that moviegoers love their giant drinks at the theater, the coalition placed “Say No to the N.Y.C. Ban” on a marquee outside the United Artists theater in Brooklyn Heights, alongside movie titles like Prometheus and Brave, the New York Times reported.
Petitions: People wearing shirts that say "I picked out my beverage all by myself" are asking New Yorkers to sign a petition against the ban, according to USA Today. As of July 19, 66,000 people have signed. On NYCbeveragechoices.com, pre-drafted letters are available for supporters to send to the Department of Health and/or to their local councilmember.
Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg