Crafting Positive Messages About ‘Bad’ Food Just Got Harder


What do you do when a Harvard study says that your products are bad for people, even if consumed in moderation? No, I'm not talking about cigarettes.

Reuters reported that a 20-year study from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital says that consistent intake of potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages and unprocessed red meat leads to gradual weight gain. This alone is not a great surprise.

One of the key findings, according to the researchers, is that some kinds of calories are simply "bad" calories, even if consumed in small portions over time. Not all calories are equal.

In other words, there's no way to scarf potato chips or guzzle root beer responsibly. Instead of "no one can eat just one," no one should eat one.

From a brand reputation perspective, how does a company that produces food and/or beverages found to be irredeemably bad by Harvard researchers respond to the inevitable criticism? The study says that moderate intake of these bad foods doesn't prevent weight gain over a long period of time, so saying something along the lines of "we respect our customers' ability to make smart choices and keep a balanced diet" doesn't really work.

So, assuming that such a company has a diversified product line (a safe assumption), the best direct response to the study is to focus messaging on its food products that are good calorie replacements for the bad.

Pass the nuts and raisins, please.


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  • Gordon

    In other words…change the subject!