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Diet Coke Ad Celebrates Entrepreneurs' Caffeine Addiction

The new ad suggests founders perform at their best when they're "on" Diet Coke. Harmless message? Maybe--if it didn't reveal an ugly truth about startup life.
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Beverage giant Coca-Cola is pushing a controversial new ad campaign that some say insinuates what many entrepreneurs already know: They're "on" (Diet) Coke--as in, taking it like a drug. 

One ad, which was created by New York City advertising agency Droga5, reads: "You moved to San Francisco with an engineering degree, an app idea, and an investor named Nana. You're on. Diet Coke." Similar ads appear on the sides of buses in New York City--making the U.S.'s two biggest entrepreneurship centers key targets.

Stuart Kronauge, a Coca-Cola spokesman, told AdWeek that the company targets "ambitious young achievers from all walks of life." He added that the campaign's "You're on" reference serves as a nod to Diet Coke's "uplift for those moments when you need to be on."

While harmless enough, the ads hit on an ugly truth about the life of the entrepreneur--that is, starting up is beyond a full-time job. It's a lifestyle that often deals in a steady trade of unrealistic deadlines and near-constant demands on your time.

"Entrepreneurs are seemingly in a constant state of flux, which makes focusing that much more difficult. Needing to think of everything can dull the effects of thinking hard about just one thing," says Geil Browning, the founder of Emergenetics International, an organizational development firm in Centennial, Colorado.

Though many founders are able to manage the vagaries of startup life with innate (and awe-inspiring) agility, others rely on outside stimuli to keep their entrepreneurial juices flowing--and some of that stimuli is less than healthy.

Outside Stimuli

Claiming benefits like increased energy and greater clarity, entrepreneurs will drink up energy-packed kale and kombucha smoothies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Similarly, Contently's Shane Snow and others have extolled the benefits of drinking Rosa Labs' Soylent in lieu of eating.

For others, unhealthy habits can rule the day. Modafinil, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of wakefulness disorders, has caught on in some entrepreneurial circles in recent years. And then of course there's the age-old college-student drug of choice, Adderall, that some founders rely on to stay on their game. For many others, there's Diet Coke.

Anyone who has ever attended a Startup Weekend or engaged in a midnight coding tear will tell you the use of outside stimulants is hardly earth shattering. But when Coca-Cola compares drinking its soda to getting high--not the first time it's done so, by the way--and targets entrepreneurs with the message, the issue of stimulants among startups deserves more attention.

To be sure, soda isn't the only caffeinated culprit. It's just the biggest--among certain groups, at least. Young people are particularly big customers. Among 18-to 34-year-olds in the U.S., 83 percent of men and 72 percent of women regularly consume soda beverages, according to Mintel's 2013 Carbonated Soft Drinks report.

Unintended Consequences

Obviously, drinking soda on occasion isn't corrosive to your health. But consuming caffeine frequently and in mass quantities is.

"It's a huge problem," says James David Adams Jr., a professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical studies at the University of Southern California. "At this point, with all of our Starbucks coffee and Coca-Cola habits, we're all massive caffeine abusers."

He adds that abuse may be more acute among certain groups. For instance, he notes that hospitals located near universities will often see higher numbers of cases of caffeine-induced seizures during finals. Also, football players--looking for extra power in their step--have been known to guzzle energy drinks, overheat, and collapse (or worse) on the field. Then there are heart palpitations and gastrointestinal disturbances, among other nasty side effects. 

As young founders similarly cram to meet milestones and push their health to the backburner for the sake of their companies, it's not a stretch to conclude that this group is also vulnerable, says Adams.

"We have this notion that we can guzzle all the caffeine we want and be fine," but he adds: "It's tremendously unhealthy and unsafe."

So what should you be doing? Check out this video for healthy productivity tips.

 

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Mar 20, 2014

DIANA RANSOM | Articles Editor

Diana Ransom is Inc.'s online articles editor. She has been covering the never-dull world of small business and entrepreneurship for years, at a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney.com, the New York Daily News, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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