"The Real Bears" on YouTube features a family of polar bears that goes from swilling soda to spilling into the sea after experiencing obesity, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and foot amputation. It's a new video campaign launched by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and it's got the beverage industry seeing red.
"Soft drinks are causing enormous health problems," Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director, told NBC News. But, "people generally love Coke." It was one thing when a soft drink was an occasional treat, he said, but now people are having it with more and more meals, and on a daily basis.
The group put together an ad, which features a donated track by Jason Mraz, to put a dent in that goodwill to jar people out of their soda drinking routine. "Coke has spent billions over the last 50 years cultivating this wonderful happy image, behind which is greed and total disregard for the public health," he said.
The video comes at a vulnerable time for the industry. Not only are fewer people drinking soda, New York City is planning to ban soda servings larger than 16 ounces, and other legislators are considering tighter soda regulations.
Mandatory calorie counts on menu boards in some areas are making consumers more aware of what they're putting into their body. Added sugar in food products has been pointed to as a contributing factor in the obesity crisis, and sugary soda is seen as a prime vector for those extra calories.
The video follows the polar bear family as they go from loving soda to dumping it in the ocean. The family gets fatter, the father gets diabetes and has trouble performing in the bedroom with Mrs. Polar Bear and eventually has his foot amputated by a chainsaw-wielding doctor.
Between these scenes flash statistics from studies linking excessive soda consumption to a host of health issues, like a peer-reviewed study in Diabetes Care, published by the American Diabetes Association, which found that drinking one or two sugary drinks per day increased the risk of childhood diabetes by 25 percent.
At the time the 2010 study was published, the American Beverage Association called the findings "overly simplistic" and "misleading."
Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the beverage trade group, said the CSPI "should be called Center for Propaganda."
"It's par for the course from an organization that's anti-soda," she said. She pointed out that while soda consumption is down 12.5 percent, obesity rates have been increasing.
When asked how many soda beverage per day should people drink, Hanretty said the ABA didn't have a position on that.
"For the soft drink industry to be accusing a little public interest group of propaganda is a little ridiculous," said Jacobson, whose organization spent $100,000 on the video and has a $17 million total annual budget. Coca-Cola spends upwards of $2.5 billion on advertising per year.