Posts Tagged consumer advertising

The curious case of a federal agency battling saturated fat consumption while also selling cheese

This story made me say, I’m sure I’m not stupid. But I’m confused now because you, Uncle Sam, are telling me two very different things. WHAT do you want me to do? Besides blog about you and complain, as more people should do about this …

In “While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales,” the New York Times reported how the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that saturated fat contributes to obesity and heart disease.

But that agency also sells cheeseYes! A Domino’s Pizza campaign associated with this federal agency increased sales of pizzas with six cheeses on the top and two more cheeses in the crust. With this much saturated fat:

According to the NYTimes, a group called Dairy Management affiliated with the Department of Agriculture has a $140 million annual budget to get more cheese on restaurant menus. It has over 160 employees with skills in product development and marketing. Dairy Management helped Domino’s create new pizzas with 40% more cheese and created and paid for a $12 million marketing campaign to sell the Domino’s pizzas. Excuse me, but I thought marketing Domino’s pizza was Domino’s job not the government’s job? At any rate the government did a good job with this — “sales soared by double digits.”

So which — telling or selling — is more effective at influencing behavior? Well … the marketing initiatives of Dairy Management successfully increased cheese sales, and cheese is now the largest source of saturated fat in our diets. Dairy Management had a hand in Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites Pizza, Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich both of which featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and cheesy sauce. This all helped cheese sales grow by 30 million pounds. Dairy Management is also behind the “Got Milk?” campaign which is slowing the decline in milk consumption among children. Granted, the calcium and vitamins can have beneficial effects for children, but this marketing prowess is also used to sell more dairy products to Americans than our health needs.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture distributes brochures like this with nutrition tips. Have you ever seen this brochure? But we’ve all heard of “Got Milk?” and we’re all seeing pizzas with cheese tucked inside the crust in addition to the mounds of cheese on top. If there was anywhere else to squeeze cheese on a pizza, they’d put it there too.

And this in the New York Times story is worrisome:

In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.

“Great news for dieters,” Dairy Management said in an advertisement in People magazine in 2005. “Clinical studies show that people on a reduced-calorie diet who consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day can lose significantly more weight and more body fat than those who just cut calories.”

Um, those of you familiar with Weight Watchers — the only weight loss program proven by strong research studies to effectively change long-term behavior affecting weight — know that recommendation doesn’t work with the WW point system unless you’re willing to be very very hungry.

And consider this:

Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health and a former member of the federal government’s nutrition advisory committee, said: “… A small amount of good-flavored cheese can be compatible with a healthy diet, but consumption in the U.S. is enormous and way beyond what is optimally healthy.”

Does our country’s obesity problem really need help to keep it growing? See it grow here:

Now I don’t have a personal problem with eating cheese. We once went to Madison, Wisconsin just to stock up at Fromagination. If you got between me and the last piece of chevre on earth, I would beat you up to get it. I wouldn’t care how big you are. It’s chevre! (OK maybe I do have a personal problem with cheese but it’s certainly not against cheese)

I have a problem with government institutions influencing behavior that adversely affects public health. We already have plenty in the private sector who have enough motivation and means to do that on their own.

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Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 2)

In Part 1, I noted that in public health we often do something that I’ve been guilty of doing too:

  • We tell people not to do things they want to do.
  • We tell people to do things they don’t want to do.

And then we expect people to “do the right thing” or “make the right choice” “for their own good.”  Then we’re surprised when things don’t change. Or we rely on satisfaction evaluation surveys — that people answered very nicely — to try to show that we made a difference.

Well, what if someone tried to sell something to you that:

  • May increase your appetite even though you want it to help you lose weight
  • Has zero nutritional value
  • May leech calcium from your bones
  • Has acidity level that can attack your teeth

Would you want to consume that? Millions of people do every day. And they pay for the privilege of doing this. In diet sodas (or pop, cola). More about drinks marketed as “healthy.”

Now set aside for a moment the fact that this could be bad for you, while in public health we try to sell the good for you. The point is, marketers are turning something that we wouldn’t want to buy and drink — when you think about what you are really drinking — into something that millions of people do want to buy and drink.

They don’t sell what the product actually is. They sell how it can make you feel. And, furthermore, they tell you what you will feel. And they choose feelings that people may want to feel: full of energy, fun, cool, fashionable, attractive, at the top of their game:

See lots of people having good times, living good lives in a lot of ways. And while drinking … what?

What they are actually selling, packaged in those cans and bottles, people would not want to buy.

Now, I understand if this example isn’t the most ideal example, because in public health we sell well-being. So how about looking at water? We would be in favor of drinking water, right? Can we imagine any scenario where people would not want cool, refreshing water? And most importantly, life-sustaining water because we cannot live for many days without it?

But what if water cost 10,000 times more than we’re used to paying for it? And most of the time, with no extra health benefit for this extra cost?  What if over 1.5 million barrels of oil were required each year to deliver water to our country? Would we want that cost? For those of us living near the Great Lakes, why import water from the other side of the planet? The well in my yard taps into an aquifer; why do I need water from anywhere else? Plus plastic production and plastic waste from 7 billion gallons each year? Are we OK with that cost?

As you can guess what’s coming, we already do pay 10,000 times more for water. We happily buy bottled water instead of turning on the tap. Why do we do this?

Youth. Purity.

And people are sold on the beauty and allure of water from Fiji. This poster even sells the green angle, when the manufacture and delivery for this industry is far from green.

So what does this mean for public health, and what we want people to “buy”? What can we do? More of this series coming soon …

Related posts:

Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 1)

Melinda Gates wonders about learning from Coca-Cola for social change too

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What will people die from?

It may not be what we think.

Spotted on a billboard on eastbound I-94, somewhere between exits 12 and 19 in southwestern Michigan:

It’s for the Get Dad To The Doc campaign. (Um, can’t women be stubborn about this too? Sure made me reflect on health care behavior about things I’ve ignored.) Here’s the Ad Council press release about the campaign.

Now try filling in the blanks for your issue:

“This year thousands of        WHO        will die from         WHAT       ?”

Truly think about the WHAT. When thinking about the behavior, try asking WHY three or more times to get to the real and perhaps surprising reason.  This is called going upstream.


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Double Rainbow Guy asked “What does this meeeaaaannnnn?”

If you don’t know what this title means, check out this video.

Who knows if he ever figured out what it meant. But here’s what it means to me: If there was ever any question that social media will dramatically change communication and what people pay attention to, there shouldn’t be any question after Microsoft created an advertisement around this guy.

I’ve been slow to embrace the social media thing. I wanted to believe that social media is just the latest trend to sell marketing seminars to marketers. I thought people are playing it up because putting “social media” in a webinar title is a surefire way to gather lots of leads because you know people are gonna sign up for it. I thought it’s just something the younger generation does — you know, MySpace and all. Facebook and Twitter came along and I thought they’d just flame out like lots of new things do. But social media doesn’t stop. It keeps spreading.

At first I thought of social media like dandelions and crabgrass — a distraction from the real stuff I want to do online. I don’t want to use weekend hours battling weeds, I want to garden the flowers and herbs, grow and pick the tomatillos and make salsa verde. I’m still figuring social media out, how to get out of it what I want. I did find the best salsa verde recipe on a blog. But before today, I thought I could get away with ignoring social media. I thought we could choose to minimize its impact on our lives. But something about the Double Rainbow Guy ad clicked — there is no ignoring social media. Ever. It will weave itself into the air of our everyday lives. Like pollen. It’s never going away, and we must all live with it.

Now, imagine the big change that the invention of automobiles brought to our whole culture and way of living … for a moment imagine the changes brought by radio and then TV to society …

Many of us don’t need to imagine the changes brought by cable, desktop computers, the Internet, wireless, cell phones. We’ve lived that. The typewriters gathering dust in corners of basements and the unused phone and cable jacks in walls tell us everything we need to know. For each of these changes, something was left behind while we were all swept forward to the next thing. Really, we don’t have much choice if we want to stay connected. I realized today social media belongs on this list now. There’s no escaping the change it will bring.

What was it about the Double Rainbow Guy that clicked? I was not one of the 12-13 million people who watched his video when it went viral. Missed that one. I never heard of him until yesterday when they were talking about him and Microsoft on the radio during morning drive time. Then Chicago radio stations were talking more during afternoon drive time. Then I tripped across a story about the Microsoft ad on a big media site, maybe They all talked about Double Rainbow Guy like we should know who he is. There’s no escaping Paris Hilton and ICanHasCheezburger memes but Double Rainbow Guy? Who is this guy??? Can we get through 2010 without hearing about him? Apparently not. So now really curious, I Googled the double raindow video and the ad, fully aware of free publicity Microsoft is getting about this ad. This Microsoft blog describes how the ad idea got rolling. And now today, my attitude about social media forever changed.

The thing is, how many corporate marketers are right now, while you read this, scouring YouTube for their own Double Rainbow Guy? And how many people are taping crazy things right now hoping they’ll get their claim to fame too? You know it’s a lot. Yep, big changes ahead …

What does this mean for public health and how we communicate?

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