Last week I applauded the new, celebrity-filled “FNV” campaign which is designed to promote greater fruit and vegetable consumption (“Celebrities Marketing Vegetables to My Kids? Bring. It. On.”) The marketing campaign is being launched by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the nonprofit arm of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, and it was born out of a 2014 New York Times piece in which writer Michael Moss asked an ad agency to create a junk-food-style ad campaign for broccoli. (Here’s the teaser video for the FNV campaign.)
My post sparked a Twitter debate in which some of my colleagues expressed serious concern about the FNV campaign, primarily for two reasons. The first relates to advertising to children, and tomorrow Casey Hinds (U.S. Healthy Kids) will have a post in Beyond Chron explaining why she objects to FNV’s use of celebrities to encourage kids to eat even healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. The next day, Wednesday, Beyond Chron will publish my rebuttal to Casey’s post on that topic.
So putting aside momentarily the issue of advertising to kids, the other main objection voiced in the debate was that the FNV campaign will likely be co-opted by the food industry and used to promote less-than-healthful products like fruit juice and highly processed fruit and vegetable foods. And we do know from bitter experience that the food industry can be quite self-serving in setting its own parameters for what constitutes a “healthy” food or beverage (see, e.g., my 2011 post “Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s ‘Self-Regulation’ of Children’s Food Advertising.”)
Michael Moss, who was following our Twitter debate, summed up that aspect of our conversation this way:
I realized during our Twitter discussion that none of us actually had the requisite facts to answer that question. So last week I contacted the Partnership for a Healthier America for more information. Here’s what I learned:
FNV Ads Won’t Directly Promote Brands, and Participating Brands Won’t Use Celebrities
Even though the FNV campaign is underwritten in part by food companies, such as the Bolthouse Farms division of Campbell’s, PHA’s spokesperson assured me that the ads will be “focused on increased consumption and sales of fruits and vegetables, not on individual brands.” So, apparently, we will not see ads with Nick Jonas or Kristen Bell holding up a bag of Bolthouse Farms seasoned carrots, and instead they will promote only generic fruits and vegetables.
That said, I was told that:
supporting organizations may feature FNV in their [advertising] and co-branded activations may occur (i.e. in-store tastings of branded commodities with FNV logo and message present). Regardless, supporting organizations can only use the FNV brand with prior PHA approval.
So does this mean that Campbell’s could put the likeness of Nick Jonas on the packaging for its Bolthouse Farms carrots? In a follow-up answer, I was told, “At this time, [sponsoring companies are] restricted to use of the FNV logo and messages.”
I should note here that even if the FNV campaign were promoting branded products, or if at some future date branded products are allowed to use celebrity likenesses, I would still be fine with that. In that regard I differ from food policy experts like Marion Nestle who, writing last week in Food Politics, expressed some overall discomfort with the FNV campaign, noting that “Marketing is not education. Education is about imparting knowledge and promoting wisdom and critical thinking. Marketing is about creating demand for a product.”
But unfortunately we don’t live in a world of quiet, thoughtful analysis. We live in a world in which we are all bombarded by powerfully influential ad messages, to the tune of billions of dollars a year, and these ads almost invariably entice us to eat the least healthful foods and beverages. We are paying a stiff price for that unfettered industry influence, in terms of the degradation of the American diet and the rise in obesity and related diseases. Since that industry megaphone will never be silenced, in my view, counter-marketing for healthful foods is not only acceptable but urgently needed.
My only (previously expressed) caveat is that when it comes to children, I would want to limit that marketing to “minimally processed fruits and vegetables.” But this leads us to the crux of our Twitter debate: just how will PHA define “fruits and vegetables” for the purposes of the FNV campaign?
The FNV Will Not Promote Highly Processed Fruit and Vegetable Foods
To get the answer to that critical question, I asked the PHA spokesperson:
Will the campaign promote or depict fruits and vegetables in processed form (such as applesauce, fruit roll-ups, canned fruit or vegetables) or will it only show fruits and vegetables in their natural state? If the former, are there any set parameters used by the FNV campaign to decide what processed products may be included in the campaign?
FNV will incorporate all forms of fruit and vegetable products – fresh, frozen, canned, dried – that do not contain excessive calories, added sugar or sweeteners, fat or salt.
While I suppose there’s a bit of wiggle room in “excessive calories,” that ambiguity shouldn’t matter if PHA adheres to the rest of its litmus test. In other words, once you rule out added sugar, fat and salt (the Holy Trinity of processed food flavor enhancers), you’ve essentially closed the door on highly processed foods being promoted via the FNV campaign.
That is very good news.
There Are No Current Plans to Promote Juice
When I asked if the FNV campaign would promote juice, I was told by the PHA, “Not at this time.”
This answer concerns me. There are many health experts who believe that even 100% fruit juice, due to its lack of fiber and high sugar content, is a driver of obesity, and the last thing Americans need is more sweet beverages in their diet. I know some of the people behind the FNV campaign are paying attention to our debate on these issues, and I sincerely hope they stick to their current plan of not using the FNV campaign to promote juice.
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I want to thank the PHA for responding so quickly to my questions and I hope this additional information is useful to those of you interested in this campaign. Tomorrow I’ll share on social media the link to Casey’s anti-FNV post in Beyond Chron and then will share my response on Wednesday.
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