Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Clinton and soda in schools

I'm feeling a little lonely on the topic of the beverage industry's announced plans to give up soda in schools. While pointing out some gaps and shortcomings, I said it looked like a significant concession, whereas previous such announcements had been window dressing. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) agreed.

But here's the case for the opposition. Michele Simon devotes a whole issue of Informed Eating and an article in Common Dreams to the proposition that the soda deal is a PR stunt. The Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch, buys Simon's version. My old hallmate Will Saletan skewers the PR event in Slate with the sharpest wit:
Nothing's more important to Clinton than the importance of Clinton, so the deal's announcement put him front and center.... First comes the CEO of Cadbury Schweppes,.... Then comes the CEO of Pepsi,.... Finally comes the CEO of Coke, Donald Knauss. He says of the deal, "We think it's going to strengthen our industry's ability to counter the perception that some of our critics have that some of our products don't fit into a balanced lifestyle." I just about fell off my elliptical machine (all this talk of exercise is highly inspiring) when I saw this. Don, you need remedial PR training! Ask that big white-haired guy standing behind you. Of course you're doing this to counter a perception that could hurt your bottom line. But, for God's sake, don't say that. You're supposed to say something about helping kids or doing what's right. Blurting out the stage directions in your consultant's message memo is very un-Clintonian. It's more like Bob Dole or George H.W. ("Message: I care") Bush.
Still want to hear my view? If the deal is just one step forward, let's say so. Don't let folks pretend it's two steps forward. Don't let folks take that step back again quietly next week and pretend that the gesture counts for effort. And yet, if it's one step forward, what message does it send if the public interest folks howl like it was one step backwards?

Like stubbornness and intransigence, concessions may be habit forming. I'm just happy to see the soda industry start getting some practice at concessions. It won't be their only opportunity for this new sport.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I agree with you.

Even if the first step forward is smaller than the ideal - it's still a step forward. Any idealist still has to realize basic business interests and that successful health promotion will need to parallel the bottom line. In this case, if the ABA can see that getting sodas out of schools may in fact help their bottom line - well, to me that speaks in favor of the voice of public interest.