Archive for April, 2010

Santa Clara County Begins the Fast Food Toy Rebellion – Parents Rejoice!

Any parent who has ever driven by a McDonald’s with little ones in the back seat knows how hard it can be to resist the lobbying, often made even worse due to the marketing of toys with Happy Meals. And of course, other fast food chains also lure kids in with the latest installment of some toy series, often tied to the latest blockbuster movie. 
I’ve been saying for years that it’s only a matter of time until some city or county figures out that a simple change in law is all that’s needed to make such promotions illegal at the local level. (Localities have tremendous public health authority that is often underutilized.) On Tuesday, it finally happened, and I am proud to say, in a county in my home state of California.

Yesterday, I posted the press release from Santa Clara County Supervisor (and Board President) Ken Yeager’s office celebrating the passage of an ordinance that limits to use of toys and other incentives to fast food that meet certain nutrition criteria. As Supervisor Yeager put it: 

This ordinance levels the playing field. It helps parents make the choices they want for their children without toys and other freebies luring them toward food that fails to meet basic nutritional standards.

There’s no doubt that luring kids with toys works. The Federal Trade Commission estimated that restaurants sold 1.2 billion meals accompanied by toys to children under 12 in 2006 alone. Further, a 2008 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest identified 12 restaurants with kids’ meal offerings that routinely exceed the recommended caloric limits for children.  Ten out of 12 of those restaurants offer toys with their kids’ meals.
Now, let’s look at the details of this law, since that often gets lost on the press. It’s not just about toys, it’s about a number of “incentives” and here is how that word is defined:

any toy, game, trading card, admission ticket or other consumer product, whether physical or digital…or any coupon, voucher, ticket, token, code, or password redeemable for or granting digital or other access to [those items previously mentioned.]

And here are some of the nutrition standards that limit the use of such incentives:

More than two hundred (200) calories for a Single Food Item, or more than four-hundred eighty-five (485) calories for a Meal;
More than four-hundred and eighty milligrams (480 mg) of sodium for a Single Food Item, or more than six hundred milligrams (600 mg) of sodium for a Meal;
More than thirty-five percent (35%) of total calories from fat. 

Now I don’t think that toys should ever be used as food incentives, regardless of the nutrition standards, and I am concerned about the message that fast food companies should market “healthy food” to kids, but this is a still good start and we have to start somewhere.
So how important is this new law, given that it only applies to the unincorporated areas of one county? I can almost hear the shrugged shoulders and people saying, there goes California again, that wacky state. While Santa Clara County may be just an hour south of San Francisco, and is known for being out in front when it comes to public health, with increasing recognition of the health problems related to childhood obesity and poor eating habits in general, we are probably seeing the beginning of the end for fast food companies using toys to hook kids.
First of all, Santa Clara County was also a leader on menu labeling, along with San Francisco. That idea then trickled up to Sacramento, and California became the first state to enact a similar law. And recently, a federal law passed requiring restaurant chains to post basic nutrition information.
Also, Santa Clara is the home of San Jose, the third largest city in California with more than 7 million residents. While this ordinance does not cover San Jose (due to jurisdictional limitations), if the city council takes up the issue there, it would have a huge impact. Meanwhile other cities known for cutting-edge food policies such as San Francisco and New York, are taking notice. Anyone could be next, and of course, it’s just this domino effect that scares the pants off of Ronald McDonald.
So what happens now? Just like they did with the menu labeling ordinance, it seems likely that the restaurant industry will file a lawsuit, if for no other reason than to scare other cities and counties away from enacting similar bills. Industry could try to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds, but targeting small children with toys and fast food does not exactly sound like protected free speech. 
Indeed, I asked the Santa Clara County Counsel’s office if they expect a lawsuit, and here is what Acting County Counsel Miguel Marquez told me today: 

I wouldn’t be surprised if the restaurant industry sued the County, but we are confident that any case they bring would be unsuccessful. The California Restaurant Association asserted First Amendment challenges to the menu labeling requirements Santa Clara County (and other localities) adopted two years ago, but they now tout menu labeling as an important service they provide to their customers. We hope the restaurant industry would instead put its resources into designing effective ways to promote healthy eating for children.

So just like with menu labeling, a lawsuit is likely to just be a temporary setback. And, by way of responding to those who might think the County has over-reached, he added: 

Local government plays an important role in advancing public health. The restaurant industry often works against parents by luring children into developing a taste for unhealthy foods.

Amen. We need more local leadership like that being displayed by Santa Clara. It’s only a matter of time before McDonald’s and friends sees the writing on the wall and realizes they will have to stop this insidious marketing strategy or risk very bad public relations. And when they do, industry is sure to take all the credit, claim to be responsible corporate partners, and act like they planned it all along.
You can read the full text of the law here and for good local coverage, see the San Jose Mercury News.

Santa Clara County (Calif) bans toys in unhealthy fast food – press release

I will write more about this soon, but here is the press release:

County Officials Pass Nation’s First Childhood Obesity Ordinance to Address Restaurant Toy Giveaways
San José – Today [Tues 4/27], the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance proposed by Board President Ken Yeager that is the first of its kind in the United States.  The new law will combat childhood obesity by preventing restaurants from using toys and other incentives to lure kids to meals that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Today’s action supports parents’ efforts to choose more nutritious options for their children.
Restaurants encourage children to choose specific menu items by linking them with free toys and other incentive items, and research shows that parents frequently make purchases based on requests made by children.  In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission estimated that restaurants sold 1.2 billion meals accompanied by toys to children under 12.  While there are currently no nutritional standards for  meals marketed to children, a 2008 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 10 out of 12 meals exceeding the recommended caloric limits for children came with toys.
“This ordinance levels the playing field,” said Yeager.  “It helps parents make the choices they want for their children without toys and other freebies luring them toward food that fails to meet basic nutritional standards.”
One in four youth in Santa Clara county are either overweight or obese, and one in three low-income children in Santa Clara County between ages two and five are overweight or obese.  Nationally, childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s.  Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.  Thirty percent of boys and 40% of girls born in 2000 will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which can result in the loss of, on average, 10-15 years of life.
“The latest generation of children may be the first to live shorter lives than their parents,” said Yeager of the childhood obesity crisis.  “Using toys to entice children into poor health habits is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
The ordinance supports the health of children in the County by setting basic nutritional standards for children’s meals accompanied by toys or other incentive items.  It permits restaurants to offer toys and other incentive items long as it is with food that meets national nutritional criteria for children. 
The ordinance imposes very specific, common-sense restrictions.  Restaurants cannot use toys as rewards for buying foods that have excessive calories (more than 120 for a beverage, 200 for a single food item or 485 for a meal), excessive sodium (480 mg for a single food item or 600 mg for a meal), excessive fat (more than 35% of total calories from fat), or excessive sugar (more than 10% of calories from added sweeteners.)  The criteria are based on nationally recognized standards for children’s health created by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and recommendations for children’s food published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
The Santa Clara County health system has seen rapid increases in children seeking healthcare for obesity-related problems at a cost of millions of dollars each year.  The County even created a Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center to address the complex medical needs of obese children in the county.
Childhood obesity is a critical public health issue,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Acting Public Health Officer.  “If we can help parents break the link between eating unhealthy food and getting a prize, we should.”
The ordinance affects all restaurants in the unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County.  Before going into effect, the ordinance requires a second reading that will happen at the May 11 Board of Supervisor’s meeting.  Restaurants will then be granted a 90-day grace period.  During that time, restaurants will be given the opportunity offer alternative measures to meet the goals of the ordinance.  If no suitable alternative is created and adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the ordinance will go into effect.

Taking on Big Soda over Taxes: Lessons Learned from Fighting Big Alcohol

This article of mine was recently published on the Corporations and Health website.

Since I started working at Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group, in 2007 it’s become painfully clear that corporations have the same playbook. Whether it’s the food industry, tobacco, or alcohol, they all use the same talking points and lobbying strategies. While Big Tobacco may be most infamous for decades of hiding scientific evidence of harm and the deceptive marketing, all industries have similar tactics.

In my work at Marin Institute, raising alcohol taxes has been a primary focus of our policy agenda because we know that increasing prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent underage drinking and adult overconsumption. With soda taxes becoming an increasingly attractive policy option to help prevent diabetes and obesity, the soft drink industry is fighting back, and hard. While tobacco is often mentioned as the analogous issue, in fact, alcohol is more similar to soft drinks.

Besides the obvious (they are both beverages), alcohol and soft drinks each hold a special place in American culture. There’s nothing more American than relaxing with a Coke, or a Bud. Also, unlike smoking, which everyone (well, except the tobacco industry) can agree should simply be stopped, when it comes to beverages, the message is more about cutting down.

Here, I offer a few of the lessons that alcohol control advocates have learned from decades of fights with industry over raising taxes, fights that continue to this day.

Lesson One:
Don’t let industry claim that soda doesn’t cause obesity or that taxes won’t work

This is a tried and true tactic: attack the science, discredit the scientists, and make unscientific predictions that are in direct conflict with the published science. As is the case with tobacco, the alcohol industry has abandoned its futile attempts at claiming there is no scientific connection between alcohol consumption and health problems. However, because the science is less far along in obesity, the soda industry attempts to refute what science there is on the connection between drinking soda and poor health. Still, this argumentation is easily countered by showing those studies that claim no connection between soft drinks and obesity tend to be funded industry, big surprise.

A related argument is that raising taxes will not result in the desired public health goal of lowered consumption, and thus fewer health problems. The alcohol industry does try to make this argument, claiming that people will continue to drink and of course, what we really need instead is better education and parental oversight. The soft drink industry loves to point out how there are “many causes” of obesity and that they should not be singled out, and that soda taxes won’t work due to this “complexity.”

Now it’s true that we do have less science when it comes to predicting behavior change from soda taxes than either tobacco or alcohol, both of which have been studied for decades by economists and other researchers. So it’s imperative that when we are making claims related to “elasticity” (the economic term for consumer response to price change) that we get it right.

We also have to be honest by saying that we may need more research to fully understand pricing effects. One thing we’ve learned from alcohol is that taxes can be a very blunt instrument in effecting price change because companies are very clever in how they absorb the added business expense. Companies can keep cheap products cheap while marking up more expensive products, or simply cut costs instead. Product pricing is extremely complex and cannot always be predicted accurately. One study suggests that minimum pricing on all alcohol may be a better policy than raising taxes, due to price manipulation by industry.

Minimum pricing is when the government sets a floor; for example, that retailers cannot sell below cost. Such a policy has a more direct impact on prices than taxes. Perhaps minimum pricing should be considered for soda.

Lesson Two:
Don’t let industry claim that a penny per ounce tax will cause massive job loss

Job loss and adverse economic impacts are industry’s most effective talking points. It cannot be underestimated how powerful and persuasive this argument is with politicians, as it gives them a convenient excuse to curry favor with industry by voting against a tax increase. Already, lobbyists for Big Soda have descended on New York State to convince lawmakers there to vote against a tax, with unsubstantiated claims of massive job loss. A recent story in the New York Daily News estimated that the beverage industry spent $3 million on lobbying against the state soda tax proposal.

The alcohol industry has been extremely effective claiming job losses so it’s no surprise the soda industry is following this path. And of course, in these tough economic times, such arguments carry even more weight. “We are already struggling. Don’t kick us when we are down. This is the worst time to raise taxes,” we hear all the time. Of course, meanwhile, every state legislature is in the red, desperate for revenue, which is precisely why soda taxes are even being considered in so many states in the first place.

But there is no good time to raise taxes. If and when the economy improves, the soft drink industry won’t suddenly stop opposing taxes. Alcohol control advocates have countered industry’s job loss claims in a few ways. First, they argue that the tax increase being proposed is so small that the impact on business will be negligible. Of course, it will still be enough to see a public health impact, but it won’t put anyone out of business, even the small “mom and pop stores.” Secondly, there is no good science to back up industry’s wildly exaggerated claims of job losses. Unfortunately, we do not have any science on the public health side either to examine what any potential job loss might be based on, either from an alcohol or soda tax increase, and this is an area of research that is sorely needed. We do have decent studies on indoor smoking laws that showed bars did not go out of business, despite industry claims to the contrary during those battles.

Another response to the economic argument is that when people stop buying one type of product (whether tobacco or alcohol or soda) those consumer dollars do not disappear. Rather, people spend that money in other parts of the economy, so there is no net loss. Moreover, the money to be gained in tax revenue will be spent on programs that will create jobs. For example, in New York, the Healthcare Education Project is projecting that 29,000 healthcare jobs will be lost if the soda tax there does not pass. This dwarfs the beverage industry’s job loss projections of 6,000 if the soda tax is passed.

Lesson Three:
Don’t let industry claim they care about poor people and working families

The beer industry has been particularly shameless about arguing that beer taxes are regressive because they hurt poor Joe and Jane Six-pack. We make the obvious counter argument, that beer, like soda, is not a necessity of life. (Moreover, research shows that people with higher incomes actually consume more alcohol.) The soda industry, through its ad campaigns and front group, Americans Against Food Taxes, is promoting the imagery of family picnics, and claiming that average Americans would never be in favor of such policies. In alcohol, polling has proven very useful to demonstrate the overwhelming support for higher alcohol taxes, especially when the funds are applied to alcohol-related programs. Polling could also be useful in countering soda industry claims that all Americans think taxes are always bad. Positive polls also offer politicians cover.

Lesson Four:
Make sure to index all excise taxes to inflation (Industry hates this) 

One of the biggest challenges in the alcohol field is that excise taxes (based on volume sold) are not indexed to inflation. As a result, because most states have not raised their excise taxes in years, the real value of tax revenue has significantly declined. For example, in California, the real value of alcohol excise tax revenue, which was last raised in 1991, has declined 37 percent. (See Marin Institute’s maps that demonstrate the impact of neglected and outdated alcohol excise taxes in each state.) This amounts to a subsidy for industry, since product prices remain artificially low. Here, you have not only industry to battle, which hates indexing to inflation for obvious reasons, but also many lawmakers who do not believe in placing automatic increases on taxes. But without it, you will find yourself fighting the same battles year after year for increases. Note that because sales taxes are usually assessed as a percentage of price, sales taxes will go up as prices increase. This is one benefit to sales tax over excise tax.

Lesson Five:
If and when you start gaining success locally, do not allow industry to get preemption at the state or federal level (This is really important)

Most excise taxes on products such as tobacco and alcohol are assessed at both the federal and state level and for good reason, as both levels of government rely on the revenue generated by taxing these products. Some states also allow the local taxation of tobacco and alcohol, which is of critical importance, especially now when so many counties and cities are hurting for revenue. And of course, it’s at the community level that the adverse impact of harmful products is felt most severely. Unfortunately, the alcohol industry has successfully preempted localities from assessing taxes in most states. In other words, only states can levy alcohol taxes, not cities or counties. (There are some exceptions; for example, California allows local fees under limited circumstances.)
For soda taxes, it’s imperative that cities and counties retain the right to assess local taxes and fees as they see fit. Also, if there is ever to be a soda tax at the federal level, under no circumstance should such a law preempt state-level taxation. Doing so would be a public policy disaster and makes no sense from a states-rights or public health perspective.

Lesson Six:
Be Prepared for the Long Haul

Finally, do not underestimate how much industry will lobby to the death against taxes. This is unlike any other fight–school food, menu labeling, you name it–and the food industry cares more about taxes. Taxes go to the heart of the corporate business model: having complete control over pricing, which is critical to maintaining steady profits.

Also, unlike other issues for which there may be grounds for compromise (such as menu labeling), industry will not compromise on taxes. This issue is non-negotiable.

Instead, industry will kill bills, and when they can’t stop a bill, they will successfully water it down to a much lower, perhaps insignificant tax rate. (Then when you try to raise it next time, it will look like a huge, unreasonable increase, which will be used against you.) Big Soda, in cahoots with distributors, restaurants, and the retail sector, will out-spend and out-maneuver public health advocates for decades to come. Already the soft drink industry has increased its lobbying against soda taxes by 750 percent both in Congress and the states, which indicates how seriously they take this threat. They can spend millions of dollars fighting taxes and still get a good return on that investment due to the money they save in the long run.

And the fight will never be over, because even if you get a tax this year, it will probably be small, and you will have to fight to increase it next year, and the year after that. Public health advocates will have to decide if the enormous resources it will take to succeed are ultimately worth spending decades fighting on taxes, or if other policies, such as reducing corn subsidies, would be more effective. Either way, the lobbyists will remain employed.

PepsiCo Triples its Chances of Hooking Teens on Gatorade, Targets their “Emotional Relationship with Sports”

Every few years, when sales decline in a flagship brand, the parent company has to figure out how to “refresh the brand” to re-boost sales and keep investors happy. Such is the case now with PepsiCo’s Gatorade line, which has been in a sales slump for three years.

Invented in 1965 by University of Florida researchers, Gatorade is PepsiCo’s third-biggest selling global beverage brand after Pepsi-Cola and Mountain Dew. So when its sales declined 14% last year, this was cause for concern on Wall Street. Enter “G” brands, PepsiCo’s first in a series of marketing strategies aimed at reviving Gatorade sales. If you’ve been wondering what all those G ads were for, you’re not alone. But odds are, you’re also not the target audience.

Critical to maintaining brand loyalty of course is reaching young customers. According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal called, “Gatorade Before and After: PepsiCo’s New Ad Campaign Aims to Boost Its Struggling Sports-Drink Business,” the company says the renaming effort has been a hit with teens. To create the “G Series” line, Gatorade interviewed more than 10,000 teen athletes, parents and coaches, says WSJ:

The first stage of Gatorade’s return to its athletic roots came last year with a makeover dubbing the drink “G.” The move fell flat with some consumers who said they were confused by the new packaging, but [Gatorade's chief marketing officer] Ms. Robb O’Hagan said the “G” campaign achieved its aim of reconnecting with teenagers, who saw the drink as something “my parents drink.”

Reconnecting with teenagers, the needed demographic to replace the aging consumers from previous decades, check. Now comes stage 2 of getting the brand off life support: inventing entirely new ways to promote the products as performance enhancing for athletes, or athletic-wannabes.

Not satisfied to merely be a thirst-quenching “sports drink,” PepsiCo has created not one, not two, but three ways to drink Gatorade, called the “G Series.” (No doubt, the “science” behind this new 3-pronged approach was cooked up at the PepsiCo-funded Gatorade Sports Science Institute, and yes, that’s a real place.) Now kids can mimic their favorite basketball star before, during, and after the game. The three products—Prime, Perform and Recover—together will cost about $7, which is more than triple the price of one plain old 20-oz. Gatorade bottle. How brilliant is that, triple your sales while tripling the empty-calorie consumption, cha-ching!

But of course the costs may be much higher from the resulting health care stemming from the adverse health effects of promoting needless beverages to teens. As the WSJ notes, “teens are Gatorade’s main target.” And Gatorade’s O’Hagan minced no words when she described the teen years:

It’s the most critical time in their emotional relationship with sport. Without a doubt, that’s when consumers enter the Gatorade franchise.

Emotional relationships, entering the franchise, does this sound like corporate responsibility to you? This is the same company that touted itself as being on board with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity. I guess Ms O’Hagan didn’t get that memo.
The need to save a struggling brand by targeting teens could certainly explain why PepsiCo’s recent announcement of a “global policy” on school beverages was suspiciously silent on Gatorade. When I tried to ask PepsiCo management about this disconnect, I was told the products were for “athletes” but no specifics were given on how to keep Gatorade out of the hands of non-athletic students, which, let’s be honest, describes the overwhelming majority of sedentary kids these days.

In my research for Appetite for Profit, every nutritionist and health professional I spoke to agreed that the average teen certainly has no need for “sports drinks,” at least not until we start suffering from a national de-hydration epidemic, which seems unlikely. Meantime, teens, who are already heavily targeted with PepsiCo’s Pepsi-Cola and Mountain Dew brands, will now be bombarded with even more messages to drink highly-caloric, nutritionally-deficient beverages. As a result, we can expect even higher risks of obesity and related health problems that go along with over-consumption. 

And with reports of PepsiCo spending $30 million to revive the Gatorade brand, the marketing effort is likely to succeed. Despite the company’s claims of corporate responsibility, all that really matters to PepsiCo is the bottom line, and Gatorade is already showing positive signs of a comeback. Again, from the WSJ article:

“Gatorade is still down but it’s not down as much as it has been previously,” Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said in an interview. “I really do feel good about the fact that we’re getting the Gatorade business back on track.”

At least someone feels good. I am feeling a little ill myself.

Kick-Ass Shameless Product Placement – Eat, Drink, Shoot, and Drive (repeat)

In a previous post I called out Iron Man 2 for its over-the-top product placement and co-branding deals with the likes of Burger King and Dr. Pepper, but now it seems another movie deserves top honors as shameless promoters of all things bad for you. As described by Brandchannel, the new superhero parody, Kick-Ass (I am sorry to have to even type that awful title) hawks no fewer than 40 brands. Here’s how some of the products break down into what’s bad for you, bad for the planet, and/or can maim you or others. PepsiCo scores the highest for most brands under one corporate umbrella (5).

Beverages – 8: Amp Energy Drink, Aquafina, Budweiser, Clover Milk (arguable), Hi-C, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist, Welch’s
Junk food – 7: Count Chocula, Dunkin’ Donuts, Honey Puffs, Hungry Man, Land-O-Lakes, SunChips, Twizzlers
Cars – 6: Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford, Ford Mustang, GMC, Range Rover, Rolls Royce
Guns – 4: Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Steyr (I had to look these up)
Sexually-exploitative dolls: Bratz! (OK, I made a special category for this, but they are awful.) 

I suppose that unlike with Iron Man 2, these movie producers could argue that there is no disconnect with superheroes eating and drinking and shooting and driving themselves into oblivion in a parody, but I still say given how popular this movie will be with young people, it’s inexcusable. Yes, the film is rated R, but we all know how teenagers flock to R movies to feel grown up. But if these teens use many of the products promoted in the film, they may not get to.

What do you think?

Shame on Susan G. Komen – KFC’s Pink Buckets are for Profits, not Breast Cancer

Ok, so since I don’t watch TV, I am sometimes a tad behind on the latest marketing travesties. But thanks to free TV on Jet Blue airlines, I can catch up. So while traveling last week I saw the KFC ads asking me to support the breast cancer cause by purchasing a bucket of chicken. It was then I realized what I miss most about TV: the outrage.

Here’s the deal: For every pink bucket of cancer-promoting, heart-clogging, animal-torturing fried chicken you purchase, KFC will donate a whopping 50 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Even more disgusting, as the Komen website explains: “Names of breast cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle with breast cancer will be listed on the sides of the bucket.” (Is that kind of like a war memorial?)

So I was happy this morning to sign Breast Cancer Action’s petition to ask both KFC and Susan G. Komen to stop “pinkwashing” — Breast Cancer Action’s term for exploiting breast cancer victims in the name of charity. For the complete pinkwashing treatment, you really must visit KFC’s Buckets for the Cure.

Then came back this lame reply from Margo Lucero, Susan G. Komen’s director of  “Global Corporate Relations” (a bad sign right there), which first simply repeats the verbiage already on the org’s website:

Thank you for your e-mail to Susan G. Komen for the Cure® – we do appreciate you taking the time to tell us how you feel about this partnership. You should know that our partnership with KFC is designed to help reach millions of women we might not otherwise reach with breast health education and awareness messages which we consider critical to our mission. This additional outreach is made possible through KFC’s 5,300 restaurants (about 900 of them in communities not yet served by a Komen Affiliate). This partnership also helps us to generate funding toward the nearly $1.5 billion in research and community programs that Komen has funded over 30 years – programs that are literally saving women’s lives through better treatments and early detection.

Next comes the excuses, and the troubling framing of food choices being a matter of personal responsibility, not to mention giving KFC props for providing “healthy” choices and nutrition “advice.” (!)

Our partnership focuses on healthy options at KFC – grilled chicken and vegetables, for example. Ultimately, we believe that the decision to maintain a well-balanced diet lies in the hands of the consumer. KFC provides tools to make those choices, by providing a healthy choice menu and advice on its Web site on how consumers can limit fat and calorie consumption in its products.

In other words, we need the cash, so leave us alone. But KFC has the most to gain out of this arrangement. In addition to positive PR, the campaign will of course encourage more purchases, and 50 cents a bucket is well, just a drop in the bucket. Meanwhile, KFC’s parent company, Yum Brands posted an impressive 10 percent increase in profits in the first quarter while revenue topped $2 billion.

You can sign Breast Cancer Action’s petition here and find them on Facebook here.

How did the American Dietetic Association get taken over by Big Food?

A colleague sent me this image of the tote bag from the 2008 American Dietetic Association annual meeting. Is it any wonder why Americans are confused about how to eat when the nation’s top nutrition-advice professional group has been co-opted by the very corporations making people sick?

Iron Man 2: Junk Food Marketing at a Theater Near You

The opening of the next installment in the blockbuster Iron Man franchise may still be a few weeks away (May 7), but the promotions are in full swing. As Advertising Age describes today, the movie has attracted more than $100 million in media buys, retail tie-ins, and giveaways. Of the ten brands listed in the Ad Age article, five promote foods that are are not exactly conducive to Iron Man’s heroic image. But who cares about the disconnect, with so many dollars up for grabs. And of course, with so many youngsters likely to see the film, the brand loyalty-building potential is key.

Here, as Ad Age describes them, are the five shameless product placements / co-branding deals:



A returning sponsor from 2008 (and a co-star in a key scene in which Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark requests a cheeseburger that happens to come from the home of the Whopper), Burger King is upping its “Iron Man” marketing machinery this time around with a major company-wide push that kicks off April 26. The fast-feeder will feature an “Iron Man 2″-branded sandwich, the “Whiplash Whopper,” and eight film-related toys — four for boys and four for girls. A bevy of TV ads targeted separately toward adults and kids will roll out as well, in addition to a heavy online presence at 

Another repeat partner, 7-Eleven, is executing several marketing firsts on Marvel’s behalf, including its first movie tie-in TV ad to promote its custom “Iron Man” straws, Big Gulp cups and other merchandise, as well as a Live Like a Billionaire Sweepstakes for The initiative will be supported with radio and web ads as well as a presence on 7-Eleven’s in-store TV network.

Tony Stark sandwiches? Land O’Frost lunchmeats are back with a major two-and-a-half month push that will feature “Iron Man” sweepstakes, TV ads, print placement in major titles such as Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal and an in-store blitz that includes 10 million Land O’Frost packages and point-of-sale materials such as life-size Tony Stark standees.

Dr Pepper has already kicked off a three-month ad and retail campaign that includes 14 collectible cans and a series of TV ads featuring “Iron Man” creator Stan Lee. Mr. Fleming told Ad Age that “Iron Man 2″ represents the brand’s first big movie partnership since 2008′s “Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull.” Even the movie’s director, Jon Favreau, got with the program, posting pictures of the cans on his Twitter feed.


For its first “Iron Man” campaign, Hershey’s is using its Reese’s brand to engage fans in the Marvel universe, much as it did with Warner Bros. for 2008′s “The Dark Knight.” The peanut-butter cup is sponsoring a sweepstakes offering fans a chance to win a walk-on role in an upcoming Marvel movie, and is using “Iron Man 2″-branded packaging in the U.S. and over a dozen global territories. The extensive effort will continue through the end of September.

Lame response from Yale PR office re: PepsiCo / medical school deal

Here is what I received from Yale after I signed the petition at to ask the Yale School of Medicine to end its deal with PepsiCo, which I wrote about here and here.

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding the Yale School of Medicine. Dean Alpern has asked the Office of Public Affairs to respond, since you refer to a recent news release which we issued.

The Yale MD/PhD Program is funded by many different public, corporate and private sources. However none of the donors can influence the content – or compromise the quality – of the program, which is considered one of the most rigorous in the country. For almost 200 years, the Yale School of Medicine has maintained the highest standards of academic and research integrity. The nutritional research conducted by Yale clinical scientists addresses important diseases including metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.

Only through the generosity of our many donors can Yale School of Medicine continue to push the frontiers of clinical research and translational medicine.


Charles Robin Hogen Œ70)
Deputy Director of Public Affairs
Yale University

So let’s write directly to Robin and explain that why this won’t cut it.

Yale / PepsiCo Deal Making for Bad PR in Wall Street Journal and Yale Daily News

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the soda and snack-food giant PepsiCo had bought a piece of the Yale School of Medicine (my alma mater – MPH, 1990) by funding a “lab” and a fellowship program. Earlier this week, the Yale Daily News reported, “Critics fizz over Pepsi Gift.” In that article, we learn part of the price tag for the sell-out:

These activists have criticized the soft-drink giant’s decision in December to sponsor a graduate fellowship in the school’s M.D.-Ph.D. program, worth $250,000 over five years, for students who want to perform research on nutrition and obesity-related diseases.

Really, only $50K a year? That’s a pretty cheap price for a company that netted $1.7 billion in one quarter of 2009. If Yale is going to sell its good name, maybe they could negotiate a better deal than that.

But the price to pay may be higher in bad public relations. It’s one thing for the school newspaper to raise questions, but today, the Wall Street Journal, the nation’s most respected business voice took notice. In an opinion piece entitled, “Boola Moolah! Food Fight at Yale,” Eric Felten writes:

PepsiCo is finding out just how hard it is to appease the nutritionistas. Two weeks ago the company was getting kudos in the New Haven Register for setting up a healthy-eating research lab at Yale’s commercial Science Park; for putting a quarter of a million dollars into a doctoral-student fellowship in obesity studies at the Yale School of Medicine; and for agreeing to limit the calories in drinks it sells in schools. “World gets Healthier (Pepsi) Generation” raved the Register’s headline. By this week the cola and snack conglomerate found itself getting smacked for the same good deeds. “Critics fizz over Pepsi gift” was the headline in Monday’s Yale Daily News, reporting that activists are accusing the university of selling out for a few soda-stained dollars. Michele Simon, a Yale School of Public Health grad, was perfectly aghast that her alma mater would have anything to do with such merchants of death: “They own Cheetos, for God’s sake.”

Yale’s School of Medicine dean replied soothingly that the arrangement is “perfectly ethical”—and there’s no reason to doubt that. We aren’t likely to see journal articles flowing from Pepsi Scholars documenting the salubrious properties of high-fructose corn syrup. 

The WSJ then hits the nail on the head: 

Still, Yale isn’t quite as innocent here as the administration makes out. The Yale Bowl could be renamed PepsiCo Stadium and there would be no suggestion that the arrangement was anything but a mercenary one—a straightforward advertising deal. But the corporate naming game has different implications when it invades the tweedier precincts of campus. When a business gets its name worked into the academic fabric of a school, it is buying something more than a place to slap a corporate insignia. There is the implication that the firm is a partner in the intellectual enterprise.

What both papers fail to mention is that the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, frequently critical of Big Food, is housed at Yale, so it’s hard to view PepsiCo’s motives as pure. With this latest bad press, maybe the powers that be at both Yale HQ and the medical school will see how stupid this move was. It hardly seems worthy of one fellowship.

Also see how the Yale Daily Journal story got spun on the MSNBC web site in an article somewhat mis-titled, “Yale Takes Heat for Pepsi-Funded Obesity Study.”

Please share these articles with others to help keep the pressure on Yale to end this ill-conceived deal. Also, email medical school Dean Robert J. Alpern and/or sign the petition at Thank you!

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