Monday, November 02, 2009
Can PR pounds fuel healthy debate?

It’s National Obesity Week this week – a week of raising awareness of the problem of obesity in the UK, organised by the National Obesity Forum (NOF) and supported by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA).

(The NPA’s support has, I’m sure, nothing to do with the global market for weight loss treatments being worth upwards of $500 billion by 2014.)

But while we’re yet to see the fruits of the NOF’s no-doubt tireless promotional campaigning to force the obesity issue into our nation’s news, it has fallen to Tanita, a PR-friendly manufacturer of ‘precision electronic measuring devices and health-related diagnostic tools’ (also known as scales) for the quick win.

Tanita proudly donates time, equipment, funding, and other resources to a variety of community and school events at local, state, national, and international levels,” says the manufacturer's website in between invites to follow it on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and news of its latest Body Fat Perception Poll.

Aside from the wonderful headline in The Express (and the picture of four particularly slim women), the survey results have also appeared in The Daily Mail and a couple of other small news sites. I’m sure it’ll roll on as the sites pick up and syndicate the story.

In a crowded media market, it is no longer enough to be running a campaign designed to improve the public health to win news headlines. A communications-focused company with a survey budget and some results that a subeditor can turn into titillating type are necessary fuel to the marketing engine.

The result is, on the surface, a win/win – the NOF gets more exposure for National Obesity Week while Tanita enjoys a nice PR hit that plants it in the nation’s mind as a manufacturer with a social conscience. But is it really anything more than product placement at the expense of discussing the wider health issues?

Now, where can I buy some scales for my new bathroom?