Junkfood Science: Staged marketing event reported as a real story

November 04, 2007

Staged marketing event reported as a real story

What’s on the news isn’t always real. Last month a marketing agency goofed and forgot the name of the medical organization that had been created to market for the diet drug industry. Not only that, but their press release was reported on news across the country as if it was a real story. Oops!

Remember earlier when GlaxoSmithKline’s marketing (part of alli and their $150 million ‘reality’ ad campaign) included press releases promoting an organization of obesity experts called the Reality Council? According to its October 22, 2006 media release, this council had issued a FTC white paper calling for action against competing over-the-counter diet aids. Called “Help Not Hype: Getting Real About Weight Loss,” the white paper was said to appeal to “healthcare providers, regulators, media and corporate America to recognize and support realistic approaches to weight loss, which cannot be achieved by relying on the exaggerated, unsubstantiated claims often touted by many over-the-counter weight control aids.”

In its January 4, 2007 press release, the Reality Council applauded the FTC for complying. It made all the news, but not a single reporter had noted that there was no such white paper on the FTC website or available anywhere online; the Reality Council had no address or website; its members were all with obesity lobbying organizations or weight loss product spokespersons; and the reality initiative was paid for by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when another press release was issued and reported across the country, including on NBC news stations. This one said: “Experts Urge Businesses to 'Get Real' About Obesity Impact.” It was issued by the Reality Coalition and reported that the Reality Coaliton was hosting a Webcast on October 11th to unveil the results of a new survey of overweight workers which “reinforced the need for employer-sponsored weight management programs.” The press release said that “two out of three respondents to this survey report that they are interested in employer-sponsored weight control programs. But less than half (44 percent) of overweight employees have access to these types of programs.”

This organization not only suddenly had a new name, but the survey it sponsored had been conducted by a paid online survey company, Synovate Global Opinion Panel. People sign up to answer questions for paid sponsors in return for the chance to win cash prizes. The more surveys they complete, the more reward points they also earn towards prizes.

Journalists were invited to access the text of the report from the Reality Coalition at Medialink. There wasn’t much to the text, another clue that this was little more than a headline generator:

ANCHOR LEAD: As Americans spend more time each day at the workplace, employers are being urged to play a larger role in their employee's health. Kendra Wright has more on the call to address the issues of overweight and obesity and improve the health of their workforce.

SCRIPT: Newsbreak, I'm Kendra Wright. A recent survey of 500 overweight people employed full-time outside the home shows most do want wellness programs in the workplace. In fact, two out of three are also interested in employer-sponsored weight control programs. The survey was sponsored by the Reality Coalition, a group of experts on obesity, nutrition, diabetes and healthcare policy. Reality Coalition co-chair Dr. MRC Greenwood says that unfortunately, less than half of those polled have access to these services at work.

CUT: (Greenwood) In the absence of supportive programs, many overweight, obese or sedentary employees might fall prey to unrealistic or unhealthy approaches to weight loss. This is a double loss for our economy – employees waste their money and employers have an even less healthy workforce. Cooperative, healthy and realistic programs from employers can make a difference and they should be everyone's business.

SCRIPT: For more, log on to www.reality-coalition.org.

This is the first mention of a website for the Reality Council ...now... Reality Coalition. Visiting it, however, only provided stronger evidence for this publicity stunt. Was this a professional website, in keeping with these “esteemed experts on obesity, nutrition, diabetes and healthcare policy”?

At reality-coalition.org one finds only “A free starter web page courtesy of GoDaddy.com” which is blank except for the same press release, “Experts Urge Businesses to 'Get Real' About Obesity Impact.”

By the way, GlaxoSmithKline recently issued a newswire release saying that 2 million people had bought starter kids (at around $60 a pop) for alli, its over-the-counter diet pill. According to their press release, “alli users are enthusiastically embracing alli and its proven track record of helping people lose weight gradually.” This was reported in the media, along with news of GSK's new advertising campaign promoting alli as a life-changing experience. As CNN reported:

"It's really been a lifestyle change for me," says one alli user featured in the campaign. "From the moment you take that first capsule, it's a different way of thinking. Here I am two months later, I've lost 15 pounds and I'm thrilled."….

Steven Burton, GSK Consumer Healthcare vice president of weight control, notes that, “From the very beginning, alli set out to be an honest voice in the weight-loss category.”

Bookmark and Share