Diet Coke Turns 30: A low-calorie history of aspartame and advertising
It's a truth we all know but refuse to accept: Diet Coke is
probably just as shitty for you as regular old Coca Cola. But, it just turned 30 the other day, so we'll try to stay objective.
Diet Coke, as anyone wearing a sweatband and chugging the
latest protein shake (packed with more additives than you can count) will
reluctantly admit, is packed with aspartame. This blend of aspartic acid and
phenylalanine--originally concocted in the search for an anti-ulcer drug--is a
little piece of chemical evil, hell-bent on deteriorating our bodies,
masquerading as a faux sweetener.
Aspartame has been a source of
controversy in the nutrition world since its accidental conception in 1965 by
chemist James M. Schlatter, but remains a fundamental building block of the
second most popular soft drink in the nation. Despite its potentially cancerous
contents, (it has been linked to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but without definitive proof) Diet Coke
has secured itself a spot in soft drink history, right behind full-calorie
classic Coke, and selling nearly 927 million cases in 2010.
After distinguishing itself from Coca Cola's inaugural diet soda, TaB, Diet Coke became the face of a new era in soda marketing
strategies. As the first new brand to use the Coca Cola trademark since 1886,
Diet Coke tripped a few times on the road to advertising glory--remember Paula
Abdul dancing around with dead celebrities? In 1983, they hit gold: Coca Cola
purchased Columbia Pictures and kick-started a tricky little technique called
product placement. The celebrity-driven love affair with aspartame was so
strong that in 1988, Diet Coke nearly became the drink of choice at the Governor's
Ball following the Oscars-only be trumped last minute by alcohol.
These days, Diet Coke has garnered an iconic status in American culture. It has the presidential seal of approval from both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. There's an entire Tumblr dedicated to
celebrities drinking Diet Coke. Though the controversy of aspartame has been well-documented,
it seems that the word "Diet" stamped on the label never ceases to convince
consumers they're doing well by their bodies by chugging it down.
So, happy birthday, you sneaky bastard! We'll probably keep drinking you, against our better judgment. And, because not every Coca-Cola is created equally, let's take a
quick moment to mourn those sodas that fell by the wayside:
New Coke/ Coca-Cola II: A marketing disaster. The company said
that "To hear some tell it, April 23, 1985 was a day that will live in
marketing infamy...spawning consumer angst the likes of which no business has
Coca-Cola Blak: The coffee-flavored
soft drink only lasted from 2006-2008.
Diet Coke sweetened with Splenda: Created under
the pressure of Walmart, but not much went into marketing, so distribution
trickled away relatively quickly.