Posted by Anne Landman on March 10, 2010

Antioxidant 7-UpAs state and local governments consider taxing soda and sugary drinks to raise money and address the national obesity epidemic, manufacturers of sugary drinks -- like countless other industries -- are taking PR cues from the tobacco industry to defeat the initiatives. The PR tactics they are using are starting to be old hat. By now, everyone should be able to spot them, but just in case you're not up to speed on your corporate PR literacy, here's what to look for:

Step One: Position your product as the solution, not the problem

Coca Cola, Pepsico and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group are running print and TV ads promoting their joint initiative to remove full-calorie, artificially-sweetened drinks from schools. At the same time, Americans Against Food Taxes, the front group for the sugary drink manufacturers, is sending out emails boasting that soda companies have replaced full-calorie soft drinks with "smaller-portion" and "portion-controlled" beverages, real juice and bottled water in schools. Voila'! Their products are no longer the problem, they are part of the solution. Even better, now they'll get kids to buy more bottled water -- which costs them next to nothing to make -- at a dollar a bottle. Score!

Step Two: Broaden the issue to take attention off your products

Broadening the issue is a classic tobacco industry strategy. Big Tobacco distracted people from the health hazards of secondhand smoke by shifting the topic to one of overall indoor air quality and poor ventilation, and by sending experts touring the country promoting "Sick Building Syndrome." This is Philip Morris's "bigger monster" strategy -- generating fear against something else to take attention off your products. The soda companies are doing the same thing here when they try to generate outrage against a soda tax by calling it a tax on "groceries." It isn't a tax on all of your groceries. It's just a tax on sugary drinks. They're trying to press your buttons.

Step Three: Claim it will cost jobs and tank the economy

The soda industry is arguing that a tax on their products will hurt the economy and result in job loss. Grocery workers will lose their jobs, they say, because people will drive to the next city, town or state to buy their soda to avoid paying the tax. (Of course, the answer to that would be a uniform national tax, but they don't mention that.) The tobacco industry routinely pulled out these same economic arguments to try and scare legislators out of taxing cigarettes. It worked for years.

Okay, putting fewer calories in school vending machines is a fine idea, but soda companies could do that without spending a fortune touting that they have done it. All the money spent on ad campaigns could instead go to shareholders, or they could donate it to, say, school libraries instead. But the soda makers' self-congratulatory ad campaigns and press releases just prove that industries keep recycling the same old PR strategies, pulling them out over and over again to try and frighten us into giving them their way. Even worse, they have all been taken from the same playbook -- the cigarette makers'. Their strategies are designed to distract people from the real problems, generate fear, and to encourage people to make decisions based on emotions instead of the facts.

Learning to recognize these PR techniques will inoculate you against them. Just remember, always look behind the arguments to see how your emotions are being manipulated, and take a few extra minutes to get the honest facts.

Comments

I don't think they should tax it... how about the thin ones that will have to pay?

But obesity and the other adverse health effects that are the result of soft drink consumption are a negative externaility that the rest of us have to pay for.

Thought this was interesting. Sadly, soda's "benefits" will probably reach far more people than these study results. Oh, and it might not be true anyway, 'cause the American Beverage Association says the study is flawed. Of course.

"Sugary soft drinks may pose a risk of pancreatic cancer. That preliminary finding comes from a large epidemiological study in Singapore. More than 60,000 adults were tracked for 14 years. Those who drank at least two sodas a week raised their risk of developing pancreatic cancer by nearly 90 percent. Pancreatic cancer is considered relatively rare and quite deadly.

The investigators speculate that the sugar in soda causes a rapid increase of insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin may act as a growth factor for cancer cells, and some scientists believe that sugar itself acts like fertilizer for the growth of tumors. This is not the first time sugary drinks have been linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Nevertheless, the findings are controversial. The American Beverage Association maintains that there are flaws in this epidemiological study and other research has not shown a link with cancer. Fruit juice consumption was not associated with a risk of pancreatic cancer in this investigation."
Source: People's Pharmacy, citing results from Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, February 2010 http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/19/2/447.abstract

Don’t get me wrong ‘coz I’m not fan of soda sort of not drinker with that. For me it’s better to drink water than that, it’s not nutritious and it can cause disease. I’m giving my opinion all right? Thank you!

The soda industry is like any other industry. It's job is to make a profit for the company &/or the shareholders. They say the sky will fall in if they have to pay more tax but the truth is that many of these companies are making enormous profits and are not sailing so close to the wind that any new tax will send them over the edge towards bankrupcy. They have understandable self interest but the key for the government is to decide on what's best for the health of the country.

Right, no amount of tax is going to bring down these giant companies to a state of bankruptcy because they have already made out billions of profits. The taxes levied are only a small fraction compared to the amount of money they make but they do not even want to part with that fraction so they try to make it a big issue. On the other hand, we the consumers should also stop harming our health, soda, we all know is not good for health, so if we stop consuming it, whom are they going to sell it to? the demand and supply in the market most of the time depends on the consumers.

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