by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

Jun 5 2013

Coke as a broker of peace and conflict

Coca-Cola as a peace broker

I don’t know what to make of Coca-Cola’s recent marketing strategies, as reported in the Washington  Post.   The ad,

“Small World Machines” starts with a relatively straightforward premise: India and Pakistan do not get along so well. It ends with the promise of peace: “Togetherness, humanity, this is what we all want, more and more exchange,” a woman, either Indian or Pakistani, narrates as the music swells. Sounds great. How do we get there? By buying Coke, of course.

The idea is to have two vending machines, one in Lahore and one in New Delhi, each with views of the other.  To buy a Coke, buyers have to cooperate.  Here are photos showing how it works.  And here’s how Coke explains it, with video and slides. 

As the Post explains, this may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

Sharing tasks and short-term, low-risk social interactions are classic conflict resolution tactics, including as a part of the civilian-to-civilian interactions sometimes termed “track two diplomacy.”  Indo-Pakistani tensions could use all the help they can get.

But the Post concludes with an update: 

Deputy foreign editor Karin Brulliard, a former Pakistan bureau chief, alerts me that, per the Wall Street Journal, Pepsi dominates the soda market there. Maybe that’s what’s been holding back peace?

This is not the first time that Coke markets its products as the key to world peace.  Those of you who are old enough might recall the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” video from 1990.

Coca-Cola as a conflict promoter

Who at Coke got the clever idea of producing personalized bottles with 150 popular names—in Israel, of all places?

Oops.  Forgot the 1.5 million Arabs who live there.

Alas, the campaign has caused a huge controversy in the Mideast.

Recall: All this is about selling Coke internationally.  Americans aren’t buying it so much anymore, so overseas it goes.

May 17 2013

How to recognize industry groups in disguise

Michele Simon and the Center for Food Safety have just come out with a new report: Best Public Relations Money Can Buy: A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups.

 This report explains how how Big Food and Big Ag promote their agendas through organizations with consumer-friendly names such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the Center for Consumer Freedom, and the Alliance to Feed the Future.

The report is guide to recognizing such groups for what they really are.

It’s great to have it.

Addition: Here’s Michele Simon’s discussion of her new report.

Apr 23 2013

Marketing foods and drinks to kids in school goes on and on

I’ve just been sent a new report on the current status of marketing foods and beverages to children at school: Promoting Consumption at School: Health Threats Associated with Schoolhouse Commercialism.

This reportfrom the National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado, Boulder,  makes sobering reading.

As the press release explains,

In their quest for additional funding, many schools and school districts have allowed corporations to promote the consumption of sweetened beverages and foods of little or no nutritional value in school and in conjunction with school projects…corporations can seem philanthropic when they provide sponsored educational materials…to schools and teachers. These materials can be colorful and engaging, and may align with state and now Common Core standards, but they also present a worldview consistent with that of the sponsor.

If you think that the food companies are making good on their pledges to reduce marketing to kids, this report will make you think again.

Here are a few snippets:

  • Available data suggest that the total amount of money spent on advertising food and beverages to children, both in and out of schools, has decreased over the past few years.  However, any reduction in spending reflects at least in part a shift to less expensive, but more effective, alternative media advertising.
  • Food and beverage companies advertise in schools in multiple ways: (1) appropriation of space on school property, (2) exclusive agreements, (3) sponsorship of school programs, (4) sponsorship of supplementary educational materials, (5) digital marketing, (6) sponsorship of incentive programs, and (7) fundraising.
  • Teaching materials may not mention the sponsor but reflect the sponsor’s views, such as that all beverages count toward hydration.
  • Digital marketing to school kids is a deliberate strategy, as explained by a Coca-Cola executive:  “We’re especially targeting a teen or young adult audience. They’re always on their mobile phones and they spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet.”
  • Health and wellness initiatives designed to promote physical activity and movement may appear to meet federal guidelines but “are problematic in that they shift the onus for obesity from the corporation’s responsibility to market healthy food to the consumer’s responsibility for making healthy choices.”

The report is a terrific summary of what’s happening with food marketing in schools, loaded with facts, figures, and references.  

In light of the evidence it provides, the report’s recommendation seems grossly understated:

Policymakers should prohibit advertising in schools unless the school provides compelling evidence that their intended advertising program causes no harm to children.

What’s missing from this report is a blueprint for action.

For that, you must go elsewhere, for example, to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Berkeley Media Studies Group, or the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Do you know of other good sources for taking action on marketing in schools?  Do tell.

Mar 29 2013

The Coke “chairs” ad: Stand up for Coke!

I’m indebted to Yoni Freedhoff for posting Coca-Cola’s latest anti-obesity initiative, this one in Spain.

Will Chairs conquer the world?  Not if you stand up for Coke!

“What if we stand up?” is the message.  OK, this is not an absurd idea, in theory.  As Mal Nesheim and I review in our book Why Calories Count, plenty of evidence supports the health benefits of standing and fidgeting, rather than sitting.  

But this ad comes from Coca-Cola, as part of its “4 commitments to fight overweight and sedentary lifestyle” campaign.

Why would Coke do this?  As BrandChannel says, “to get out ahead of the negative “sugary drinks” PR wave.”  It notes that Coke just signed a new bottling agreement in Spain, where it also launched “Happiness” ATMs as part of its global “ Open Happiness” campaign.

But in “Chairs,” gone is Coke’s role in promoting health. Sure, it’s meant to be funny but the substituted message is about how it’s the consumer’s fault for sitting down so much. Coke is implying that its a third, disintereted party and that consumers should take it up with their chairs (which, really, is another way of saying consumers should take it up with themselves). 

The ad follows others run in the U.S. and in the U.K.

What I love best about the Spanish ad is that it could have come right out of The Onion.   Its writers argued that the ferocious opposition to Mayor Bloomberg’s 16-ounce soda plan proves that Americans are willing to stand up for their beliefs.

Dr. Freedhoff points out another irony: Coca-Cola is in the business of selling chairs (who knew?).

Collectibles!

Feb 25 2013

New books on how the food industry hooks us on junk food

Two new books out on the same day, both looking at similar topics but from different angles, both well worth reading.  I did blurbs for both.

Melanie Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, Scribner, 2013.

Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

Warner used to cover the food business beat for the New York Times.  She knows what she’s talking about.

My blurb:

In Pandora’s Lunchbox, Melanie Warner has produced an engaging account of how today’s “food processing industrial complex” replaced real foods with the inventions of food science.  Her history of how this happened and who benefits from these inventions should be enough to inspire everyone to get back into the kitchen and start cooking.

And here is Warner in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal on the liquification of chicken nuggets (white slime, anyone?).

 

Michael Moss, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  Random House, 2013.

Moss wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning article for the New York Times on failures in our food safety system.  His article based on his new book appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

My blurb:

Salt Sugar Fat is a breathtaking feat of reporting.  Michael Moss was able to get executives of the world’s largest food companies to admit that they have only one job—to maximize sales and profits—and to reveal how they deliberately entice customers by stuffing their products with salt, sugar, and fat.  Anyone reading this truly important book will understand why food corporations cannot be trusted to value health over profits and why all of us need to recognize and resist food marketing every time we grocery shop or vote.

And here’s the Wall Street Journal’s review of both (which is what happens when books on the same topic are published on the same day).

Jan 16 2013

Coca-Cola fights obesity? Oh, please.

In case you missed all the publicity about Coca-Cola’s new ad campaign positioning the company as a force for public health, take a look at its new two-minute TV ad.

The video—how much do these things cost?—argues that the company is producing lower-calorie products in smaller sizes and promoting community activity, that all calories count, and that it’s up to you to fit Coke into your healthy active lifestyle.

The ad is an astonishing act of chutzpah, explainable only as an act of desperation to do something about the company’s declining sales in the U.S. and elsewhere.

If Coke really wanted to help prevent obesity, it would STOP:

  • Targeting its “drink more Coke” marketing to kids.
  • Targeting marketing to low-income minorities.
  • Lobbying and spending a fortune to defeat soda taxes and caps on soda sizes.
  • Fighting attempts to remove vending machines from schools.
  • Pricing drinks so the largest sizes are the best value.
  • “Bribing” health professions organizations to shut up about research linking sugar-sweetened beverages to poor diets and weight gain.
  • Pushing Coke sales in developing countries where rates of obesity and related conditions are skyrocketing.

Instead, it’s doing all these things, but not talking about them in videos.

The company is supposed to be releasing a second video tonight, explaining how to work off the “140 happy calories” in a soda by dog-walking, dancing, or laughing. If only.

I can’t wait.

Addition, January 18:  Someone who calls himself John Pemberton has gone to the trouble of presenting the 2-minute commercial with a somewhat different narrative—the real story about Coca-Cola and obesity.  If that link doesn’t work, try this one.

Jan 11 2013

The Leanwashing Index: Yes!

I was unfamiliar with the Leanwashing Index, but am delighted to learn about it.  EnviroMedia launched it in 2012 to discourage advertisers from using absurdities to push products.

EnviroMedia explains the inspiration for the Index: the appearance of the word “Superfood” on Lake Superior State University’s 38th annual List of Words to be Banished.

Here’s the 2013 Leanwashing list:

  • Natural
  • Made With
  • Whole Grains
  • Light
  • 100 Calorie

Away with all of them!  (I can think of plenty more.  Send your suggestions to the site.)

Here’s a prime example:

And while we are on the subject of whole grains, you might want to take a look at Colbert’s latest “Thought for Food.”

Enjoy the weekend!

Sep 11 2012

A nice compliment from J Public Health Policy

Most of you probably don’t read the Journal of Public Health Policy, but I’m on its editorial committee.  Nevertheless, this editorial came as a surprise.*   I thought I would share it with you.  Enjoy!  (I did).

Big food

Anthony Robbins M.D., M.P.A.Co-Editor

I first encountered Marion Nestle in the late 1990s when I edited Public Health Reports, the scientific journal of the US Public Health Service. We published a provocative piece of hers about the marketing by Proctor and Gamble of Olestra, a zero calorie fat substitute. Marion taught me a great deal about how the food industry markets its products that are tasty, convenient, and relatively inexpensive. It markets intensively to children and continues to do so long after overeating and obesity have been shown to have deadly health consequences. Sound familiar? Perhaps like the tobacco industry.

In 2003, I invited Marion to Public Health Grand Rounds to describe the obesity epidemic to my public health students at Tufts Medical School. To follow Marion, I invited Richard Daynard from Northeastern Law School, who had litigated extensively against the tobacco industry. Dick carefully noted the differences between tobacco, which has no healthy use, and food. But he suggested that the anti-health behavior of the two industries might be similar: continuing to market products in a way that certainly harmed health.

When the public health faculty at Tufts and the law faculty at Northeastern joined forces to establish the Public Health Advocacy Institute, one of our first projects was Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic1, a symposium published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, in 2004. It attracted a great deal of attention and JPHP became a favorite place to publish research on obesity.

But I was not entirely pleased, because although the research was usually methodologically sound, it often missed Marion’s point and the focus of the PHAI symposium. Most submissions concentrated on individual behavior and personal responsibility. In 2010, I asked Marion, who was on the JPHP editorial board to join me in writing an Editorial: ‘Obesity as collateral damage: a call for papers on the Obesity Epidemic’.2 We had ‘come to believe that research studies concentrating on personal behavior and responsibility as causes of the obesity epidemic do little but offer cover to an industry seeking to downplay its own responsibility’. We urged ‘authors to submit articles that consider how to understand and change the behavior of the food industry’.

Imagine our pleasure in learning that starting this June, PLoS Medicine will publish a series of articles exploring the food industry’s involvement in health with Marion Nestle as a guest editor. To PLoS Medicine, we say bravo!

References

  1. Journal of Public Health Policy (2004) Special section: Legal approaches to the obesity epidemic. 25(3&4): 346–434.
  2. Robbins, A. and Nestle, M. (2011) Obesity as collateral damage: A call for papers on the Obesity Epidemic. Journal of Public Health Policy 32(2): 143-145.

 *Journal of Public Health Policy (2012) 33, 285–286. doi:10.1057/jphp.2012.25