"Ad Messages Lie," Says Soda Sucks Winner

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Ed. Note: Organized in summer 2011, the Soda Sucks anti-advertising campaign invited youth to “outsmart the soda advertisers.” Soda Sucks awards were contested in four categories: poster, rap/spoken word, video/animation, and street art. Winners range in age from 15 to 21. Five grand prize winners received $1,000 cash prizes. Five young people received honorable mentions prizes of $100 and prizes were also awarded for People’s Choice and a Runners Up in the rap category. Winning projects can be seen here.

RICHMOND, Calif.—William Haynes, 17, confesses he’s been a soda drinker his whole life. Although he doesn’t plan on giving up soda for good, he says he has been substituting more water and juice for soda to prevent health risks he’s learned are linked to high soda consumption.

Earlier this month, Haynes won $1,000 for a video he produced for a statewide public-awareness contest, sponsored by New America Media entitled “Why Soda Sucks.”

“I had an uncanny tenderness, a warmth, a passion for soda--that was, until I did a little bit of research,” he said. His video entitled, “Soda Sucks, Water is Good,” outlines the health hazards associated with soda consumption.

“I heard soda weakens the bloody heck out of your tooth enamel and increases risk for obesity by 1.6 times [for each additional soda above the daily average]",” he said. Many teenagers like him, says Haynes, are large soda consumers and prefer it to most other beverages.

Haynes, who was born and raised in Richmond, Calif., says soda addiction is largely the result of aggressive marketing techniques aimed at teenagers.

“Young people are targets of ads,” Haynes said, “because even though we don’t have that much money, we don’t have to worry about making payments,” such as rent or utilities.

Some of Haynes’ friends recently told him about a commercial for SunDrop, a citrus flavored soda. In the ad, a young woman takes a sip and begins dancing joyfully to a popular rap song. For the duration of the commercial, the girl dances through the streets, on to the beach, disrupting a yoga class and eventually initiating a beach dance party--where everyone is drinking SunDrop sodas with her.

“My friends wanted to see where they could buy it,” he said, “and I think they showed that interest because of the way it was marketed to them.”

Another reason for soda’s high consumption rates among his peers and in his city, Haynes says, is that it is “just so much more available.” “Richmond is a food desert,” he states. “You can go down the street and easily get a two-liter bottle of soda at the gas station. Water and juices--they’re available, but not as much and in smaller quantities.”

Haynes noted that his family purchases a lot of food from the dollar store, because of the lack of other markets in Richmond. “I made an oath to myself not to eat any of that,” he said, adding that both his parents have high blood pressure.

Haynes has his own YouTube video channel, WilliamHaynesTV, where since 2009, he has produced and uploaded 67 videos that address issues ranging from climate change to peer pressure and youth culture.

Using comedy is key, he said. “Jokes seem to be more memorable--I call it activist comedy.”

Haynes says his parents think that his YouTube channel is a phase, that “some teenagers join gangs, others make YouTube videos.” “But it’s not a phase. This is something I’ll do the rest of my life, maybe not on YouTube, but somewhere,” he said.

Haynes started college this fall in Southern California, where he is studying film. He will use his prize money to buy books and equipment.

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