The city of San Francisco is exploring new ways to cut down on sugar consumption through legislation that would undoubtedly prompt the Kool-Aid man to cry, “Ohh noo!” This week, lawmakers unanimously voted to place health warning labels on all advertisements for sugary drinks in the city and to ban such ads from display on city property. Barring a veto from San Francisco’s mayor, the ordinance has potential to go into effect this summer. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the first big city lawmaker to wage war on high-calorie beverages but, in the end, lost the fight.

 

“WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco,” the label would read. In line with FDA regulations regarding tobacco warnings, the law would require labels to take at least 20 percent of ad space.

 

Although legislators throughout the country have already attempted to curb the effects of sugary drinks, this ordinance would make San Francisco the first city in the nation to deter such consumption through the use of warning labels. It also represents a new vehicle for messaging health concerns against big beverage companies that for decades worked to create sentimental narratives about their brands.

 

“Requiring health warnings on soda ads…makes clear that these drinks aren’t harmless—indeed, quite the opposite—and that the puppies, unicorns, and rainbows depicted in soda ads aren’t reality,” says San Francisco Board Supervisor Scott Weiner, a sponsor of the bill.

 

Supervisor Weiner is correct in his assessment of the power of good marketing. Just last month, Mad Men reminded Americans why we love Coca-Cola as the show aired the landmark “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial during its series finale. In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, historian Kathleen Franz explains that the ad was so effective because it grew out of a moment that made “branding and advertising less about the product and what it can do for you, and more about the larger themes about how it makes you feel good.”

 

In addition to combating the lobbying efforts of interest groups looking to prevent the bill’s passage through political means, advocates of the new soda law are also up against themes of togetherness, youth and happiness that have been engrained into public opinion through generations of pop culture (pun intended). That isn’t to say their efforts are futile—the same warning labels helped drive down tobacco use even as the iconic Marlboro Man hinted at what rugged Americans dreaming of life on the frontier should smoke. Although public opinion towards soda and sugary drinks won’t change overnight, San Francisco is taking an important step in swaying our collective consciousness in a healthy direction.

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