Companies Say the Darnedest Things As They Try to Avoid Regulation
by email from The Prevention Institute
22 May 2013 :: Tobacco. Leaded paint. Junk food. Sugar-laced soda. Seems like every time communities or states try to pass laws that would help protect families and children from unhealthy products, a public relations effort is unleashed by the makers of those products and their allies.
Scientists friendly to industry are funded to cast doubt on the consensus of other scientists that say cigarette smoke causes cancer or that sugar-sweetened drinks are a major contributor to diabetes.
Front groups disparage the regulatory efforts and talk about the freedoms that may be taken away — like people's "right" to smoke cigarettes on airplanes or in restaurants, or the "first amendment rights" of companies to advertise junk food to toddlers.
Companies start telling us how much they care about us and our children and create new programs to demonstrate it.
In a two-part series in Forbes Online that began yesterday and concludes today, Prevention Institute's Rob Waters and William L. Haar take a look at Coca-Cola's new "Live Positively" campaign and at the "nanny state" rhetoric raised by so-called independent groups that promote junk science, and can be counted on to oppose any attempt to rein in the marketing of unhealthy products.
We all want a marketplace that supports small businesses to sell healthy products and families to have truly healthy choices in buying food for their children.
Check out the series here — and then do what you can to raise awareness in your community — with a letter to the editor, a conversation with your neighbors, or a dialogue with a merchant you know about stocking healthy items.
Coca-Cola's "Frank Statement" a Slick Move to Stave Off Regulation
by Rob Waters, Contributor with William L. Haar in Forbes Online | http://onforb.es/Z0B6AC
From Coca-Cola Content 2020 Part One marketing video as seen on YouTube>>.
21 May 2013 :: Earlier this month, Coca-Cola KO -0.21% unleashed a new PR blitz complete with full-page ads, press events and appearances on TV news programs, all aimed at showing the world that Coke folks are good corporate citizens that care—really care—about the global epidemic of diabetes, obesity and related chronic health problems. Yes, the company seems to be saying, we understand there’s a problem and we’re willing and eager to do our part.
It reminds us of another advertising blitz by an industry whose products were coming under increasing scrutiny. On Jan. 4, 1954, the “Tobacco Research Institute” published a full-page ad in the New York Times and more than 400 other newspapers around the country. It’s title: A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers.
In the Frank Statement, the tobacco companies said:
We accept an interest in people’s health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.
We believe the products we make are not injurious to health.
We always have and always will cooperate with those whose task it is to safeguard the public health.
Flash forward 60 years and Coca-Cola’s new “Coming Together” initiative expresses similar concern for the public’s well-being and touts its own commitment to promoting “moderation” in consumption and “transparency” in disclosing the calorie content of its products. Yet the company’s plans include no substantive changes to its basic business model of getting more people to drink more sugar, regardless of the health consequences.
Coke’s real agenda is to stave off regulatory changes that would force them to change their current practices. For example, Coke and other soda companies have steadfastly opposed taxes on sugary drinks, including a bill currently in the California legislature that would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on soda. Research from UC-San Francisco suggests that such taxes would reduce consumption by 10 to 15 percent over a decade preventing nearly 100,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 deaths. The California legislation, like most proposals, would channel the tax revenue into health programs. Legislatures in Vermont, Texas, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut are considering similar bills.
As consumer advocates increase the pressure on the soda industry through proposed taxes and regulations, Coke’s response is to position themselves as responsible stakeholders. Coke hopes to forestall policies that would have a real impact on their business by embracing voluntary, self-enforced corporate initiatives. This dovetails with the company’s bid to enhance its image by funding exercise and education programs through its Live Positively campaign.
At the same time, Coke is making a concerted effort to coopt and subvert the public health message that soda is bad for health. An analysis released this week examining the link between soda and obesity found that four studies funded by the food and beverage industry found little evidence connecting soda to poor health, while 13 independent studies all found a significant evidence of soda’s harmful effects.
Funding scientists to debunk other scientists is a page out of the tobacco industry’s handbook. So is misrepresenting data using eye-pleasing infographics that, for example, compares overall calorie consumption over a 35-year period to sugar consumption over a cherry-picked eight-year period to give the false impression that soda has added little sugar to the diet since the 1970s.
In its new initiative, Coke claims to be a responsible partner because of its new worldwide commitments. Let’s take a look at those pledges:
1. Offer low- or no-calorie beverage options in every market.
Coke’s principal business is still selling sugary sodas, priced lower and marketed more aggressively than alternatives. Sugary drinks remain the vast majority of the company’s portfolio.
2. Provide transparent nutrition information, featuring calories on the front of all packages.
Front-of-package labeling is a small victory for consumer advocates but listing calories isn’t enough. Numbers on the front of a can don’t compensate for the $2.9 billion Coke spends on marketing each year.
3. Support physical activity programs in every country where Coke does business.
Drinking soda has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and about 180,000 deaths a year, according to data from Harvard researchers. Physical activity is important but it’s self-serving for Coke to suggest that the problem with their unhealthy products is the exercise habits of their customers.
4. Market responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world.
Coca-Cola has long claimed it doesn’t market to children under 12 in the U.S. Yet the average American child sees 200 Coke ads per year on primetime TV—and children of color and adolescents see even more. We can expect this same as Coke’s current campaign goes global.
A Coca-Cola marketing video is explicit about the company’s desire for positive branding. In classic marketing-speak, the company says:
“Our brand stories must show commitment to making the world a better place. So we must partner with the brand teams to build the BVA (Brand Value Architecture) with a clearly positive lens.”
The same video also reveals Coke’s underlying goal:
“We intend to double the size of our business – that’s a lot of incremental servings!”
5/22/2013 @ 1:15PM |
Ignore Evidence. Deny Science. Minimize Problems. Then Cry 'Freedom! (And Invoke the Nanny State)
Rob Waters, Contributor with William L. Haar in Forbes Online | http://onforb.es/10U8fvj
I write about health, science and our crazy healthcare system.
Freedom's just another word for... a bowl of Count Chocula cereal?
First they ignore. Next they deny and bury. Then they minimize. Finally, they shout about freedom—and how politicians are taking it away.
These are, to the best of our reckoning, the four stages of corporate response when the public and political leaders start demanding restrictions on products that make us sick or do us harm. And, of course, if political leaders do try and act, company executives and PR people lob inflammatory phrases like “nanny state” to rile people up.
That’s what Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Business did recently on this website when she derided Mayor Michael Bloomberg for working to “expand the nanny state that has become New York City.” Bloomberg stands accused because he is attempting to limit the size of sodas—after previously oppressing New York residents by restricting public smoking and regulating sodium and trans fats in food.
Pity the poor food conglomerate, whose God-given right to expose its customers to carcinogens and artery-clogging trans fats has been so savagely attacked! Next, Harned actually suggests, Girl Scouts may be forced to sell apples instead of cookies and employees may be required to use stairs instead of elevators.
These kinds of absurd arguments aren’t new. Take a moment to snicker at this column from 1988, which makes the case that freedom died in America when the Reagan administration prohibited smoking on domestic flights of less than two hours. Despite the fact that such an idea is laughable 25 years later, the similarities to Harned’s column are striking. It’s all there: the allusions to totalitarian government, the invocation of the slippery slope that will lead to our loss of freedom, and, of course, the complete lack of evidence.
But here’s the interesting thing. The stated arguments used to oppose regulations that would protect the public’s health are usually about consumer freedom. But the real drivers of the anti-regulatory agenda are almost always the very industries that want to keep selling harmful products with unfettered ease.
When Congress asked the Interagency Working Group, a group of federal health agencies and regulators, to develop standards for the marketing of food products to children, they did just that. The IWG’s initial guidelines, released in 2011, said that any food promoted to children must have ingredients like real fruit, vegetables, whole grains, extra-lean meat or eggs, low-fat dairy, etc., making up at least 50 percent of its weight.
In other words, food marketed to children should have, well, actual food. Seems like a good idea, right? Not to General Mills GIS -0.67%, maker of Lucky Charms, Trix and Count Chocula cereals. The company submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, the lead federal agency developing the guidelines, noting that “of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages in America, 88 would fail the IWG’s proposed standards.” That’s a pretty telling statement about the reality of American processed food.
For good measure, the General Mills letter also invoked the specter of government coercion, arguing that the proposed standard “restricts free expression in violation of the First Amendment.” And sure enough, pressure from General Mills and other big food companies forced the IWG to withdraw the guidelines, even though they were only proposed as voluntary measures.
Businesses shouldn’t have carte blanche to sell products known to make people sick, yet there is compelling and overwhelming evidence that soda is uniquely harmful. Research presented to a conference of the American Heart Association in March linked soda consumption to about 180,000 deaths a year from diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. So far, help isn’t coming from the federal level, sticking communities with the responsibility to develop, pilot and defend consumer protections, just as we did with cigarettes, seatbelts, and lead in paint. It may make Harned’s blood boil, but communities can and should create laws to protect themselves against the excesses of industries more concerned with profits than the health of their customers.
While Harned wraps super-sized sodas in the flag and issues dire warnings about the “nanny state,” families are worried about how to keep their children from becoming the first generation in history that may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
In 2003 Coca-Cola attempted to co-op the argument by “lending” John H. Downs Jr., Coca-Cola Enterprise¹s senior vice president for public affairs and its chief lobbyist to National PTA to serve on PTA’s board of directors…to help “get PTA into the 21st Century”.
Downs finagled a nomination for a “Coke-friendly” business exec (Venture capitalist Ricardo Lopez Valencia) to be National PTA President-elect.
The move was defeated in true PTA fashion using parliamentary procedure – in an election contested from the floor at the Charlotte, NC convention.
Roberts’ Rules of Order defeats political shenanigans nine times out of ten!