Diet Coke’s Advertising Embarrassment: “You’re On!”

Fragment of glass cola with ice
If so, on what?
The last time the Coca-Cola Company heard this much ridicule, it was 1985 and New Coke had just been introduced. It was pulled from the market less than three months after its debut. This time it was Diet Coke’s new slogan: “You’re On!”
The ad campaign, which ran this past spring, presented Diet Coke as a pick-me-up for upwardly mobile young people, akin to an energy drink. A billboard described it as “how go-getters get going.” A print ad said: “You’ve got an 8 a.m. interview, a perfect black suit and three letters in your future: CEO.”
Bloggers pointed out that in some ads, “You’re on” appeared above the Diet Coke logo, and the resulting tagline, “You’re on Diet Coke,” evoked a cocaine habit along with the history of Diet Coke’s sibling, Coca-Cola, which once included cocaine as an ingredient. The ads received so much mocking and japery that Coke took all the ads down and buried the campaign.
When you drink a diet Coke, you’re actually “on” a significant number of chemicals that cause a cascade of unwanted effects in the human body. Diet Coke has the following ingredients:

  • caramel color E150d, which contains carcinogens;
  • caffeine, which is fine in limited amounts but in higher amounts can increase blood pressure, reduce control of fine motor movements, increase cortisol secretion, cause anxiety, and accelerate bone loss in postmenopausal women;
  • phosphoric acid, which inhibits the body’s ability to use calcium, leading to osteoporosis; and
  • The artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame-K; as noted in our article on artificial sweeteners, aspartame can turn to formaldehyde at high temperatures.

A study presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology found that women who drink diet sodas are much more likely develop heart disease and even die than other women. Women who consumed two or more diet drinks a day were 30% more likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular “event,” and were 50% more likely to die than women who rarely drink diet sodas.
Peter R. Orszag—former director of the Office of Management and Budget, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, and diet coke drinker—dismissed the study because the women who drank diet soda were more likely to be obese and smokers than other women. Orszag acknowledges, however, that the researchers used a statistical model to adjust for the adverse health of these variables and still found a correlation! (Such statistical modeling to adjust for other factors is a common practice used in many studies.)
Orszag claims that the study merely shows correlation and not causality and recommends that a double blind placebo study be conducted to establish causality. Such a suggestion is patently ridiculous! Who would do such a study? Who would supply the millions of dollars to fund it? Coca-Cola? They have no interest in funding a study that could possibly show their product in a negative light.
In addition, Orszag is wrong about there not being enough hard evidence:

  • A joint study from the University of Miami and Columbia University found that individuals who drank diet soft drinks were 43% more likely to suffer vascular events than those who drank none—and this is accounting for preexisting conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  • A University of Texas study found that drinking two or more diet sodas a day made the drinkers’ waists grow 70% more than non-drinkers—five belt sizes, on average. The study, presented at a American Diabetes Association meeting, found that artificial sweeteners trigger appetite, but unlike regular sugars, they don’t deliver something to squelch the appetite. Both diet and regular sodas also either don’t send or interfere with signals to your brain that tell you you’re full.
  • A Harvard Medical School study found that women who drank two or more diet sodas per day demonstrated more palpable loss of kidney function. Another study tested on 10,000 adults given just one diet soda per day had a 34% increase in metabolic disturbances.

It may contain fewer calories, but diet soda is anything but a “healthy alternative” to regular soda. And regular soda is one of the worst things you can consume. If you need a pick-me-up, the best plan is to bottle your own weak, unsweetened green tea. You will also save a lot of money.


  1. Hi there—
    Just to let you you know, I was once a hardened diet soft drink drinker. It got to a point that diet soft drinks were all I drank (no water, no juice, no anything else). My reach hit a diet soft drink over and over again (and diet Coke was one of my favourites).
    I then became interested in my personal health and along with a new computer started educating myself. One of the first things I did was give up diet soft drinks. I weaned myself off diet drinks, then I weaned myself off regular soft drinks (which I occasionally drank), then I weaned myself off club soda. Now, for the most part I drink distilled water (to which I add minerals).
    Two to three months after coming off diet soft drinks, I felt I had awoken from a ‘coma’. Wow!
    I always knew diet soft drinks was really bad (i.e.aspartame); and I knew regular soft drinks were bad too and I knew even club soda was bad (regular water with chlorine and fluoride all bottled in plastic bottles).
    I’ve never smoked, but I can now relate. There are days when I can just kill for a soft drink (diet or not). A childhood memory…egg salad sandwich and a coke! mmmmmmm! now just a memory.
    Thanks for listening.

  2. I use to drink sodas until my side and stomach would ache, I realized it was from the carbonation in the sodas. I stopped drinking them and drink only two cups of coffee, then it is water the rest of the day. Take your doctor’s advice and cut sodas from your diet.

  3. Shouldn’t you have said ALL diet colas not just Coke. Pepsi, RC etc. have the same effects.

  4. To avoid carbonated sweetened drinks, I use 1 oz cranberry or grape juice in ice water. More interesting than plain water and not as many calories as more juice!
    Are drinks such as Mello Yellow and Gatorade and Root Beer also harmful?

  5. I think the diet coke article explains a lot to me. I’m not saying that it caused my problems just that it might have helped. I do have hbp and my waist line is horrible. I drank diet coke for around 20 years and this all started before I quit. I hope someone else makes the decision like I did and switch to drinking regular coke

  6. If certain foods and consumables like the cigarettes, sugar and artificial sweeteners, are known to be harmful to humans, how do parents, working for these companies justify producing such products and CEOs (also parents I believe) be proud of the profit they make?

  7. This is a great article. I believe these studies to be true. I only drank Diet Coke for years. I kept gaining weight, even though I was moderately active and tried eat so called healthy. Well, last year I decided not to drink it anymore, and have since lost 22 lbs. Food taste better. I feel wonderful. I only drink water and black coffee (in the morning).
    Big corporations are only looking out for their share holders, not the health of consumers. And it will continue to worsen as long as politicians and government gain from them too.

  8. The article fails to mention, or maybe I should say “drive home” the REASON for all these problems is the aspartame…..ppl still do not understand “artificial sweetener”….they will tell you they don’t drink Diet Coke while adding fake sugar to their coffee, eating gum with aspartame, eating a low fat muffin with aspartame and taking some over the counter meds with aspartame…..aspartame is in almost 6000 products…gum, yogurt, over the counter meds etc. Write an article on aspartame, talk with Russell Blaylock who is a neurosurgeon, list all the other foods that contain aspartame so people can get the bigger picture. A lot of ppl think they have eliminated aspartame, the real culprit here, by saying “I don’t drink diet sodas” and they think that they are fine. People need to think bigger.

  9. A little over a year ago I was still a diet coke drinker until I found out about the negative effects of aspartame and how it is linked to cancer. I now only drink water and occasionally seltzer if I am in the mood for something carbonated.
    Aspartame also alters our mood and causes acne because it messes with the pH levels in our skin which is another reason why I stopped drinking it.

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