The bitterness behind sugar

Salt, sugar, and supersized: the three main ingredients in American diets. Also the main ingredients for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Our infamous caloric intake is increasing more than just our pant size – it’s amplifying some unsavory national health trends.

 According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than one-third of adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity (2011-2012 stat). The same frightening statistics also applies to children and adolescents.

What’s to blame? It is the drive-thru lunches we are so fond of, our favorite snacks in the office vending machine, or the endless choice of indulgence at the supermarket? It’s just as hard to pinpoint a singular culprit, as it is to change the narrative, but some are trying to start.

Local governments from New York to California have started to propose legislation that supports less consumption of sugary beverages. Such regulations include removing sugary drink options from schools, adding an extra soda tax, and requiring warning labels. (Read Padma Nagappan’s article to get an overview of previous efforts to limit consumption.)

Most recently, the city and county of San Francisco approved ordinances that would make advertisers include warning labels on qualifying drink ads, as well as prohibit brands from advertising sugary drink products on city-owned property.

In response, the American Beverage Association is suing, claiming that such ordinances violate free speech rights. No matter the argument between government and corporate America, the real question is: will such proposals and ordinances even stop the consumption of sweetened beverages? Carbonated flavored drinks have become an American staple. Can adding a warning label ultimately change American consumer habits?

While the ABA may be up in arms, government use of health labels is hardly a foreign idea; everyday we are exposed to warning labels on two of our biggest indulgences, alcohol and tobacco.

In 1988, congress passed the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act (ABLA). In sum, it is dictated two main notions. The first, through its passage, it became required for alcohol labels to carry the following,

“GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.”

Secondly, the act also contains a declaration for such a policy, highlighting that, “the American public should be informed about the health hazards that may result from the consumption or abuse of alcoholic beverages, and it would be beneficial to provide a clear, nonconfusing reminder of such”.

Such declaration for the collective benefit of Americans is bound to be a main citation behind the passage for such labels on sugary beverages.

Similarly, health-warning labels have also been mandatory on tobacco packaging for the past 50 years. Congress required tobacco companies to place warnings on cigarette packing beginning in 1965 with the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, and then so in print advertising in 1969 with the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act.

In January of 1964, the first Surgeon General’s report definitively linked cigarette smoking with disease. Much as it was with the declaration behind the motive for alcohol labeling, the US Public Health Service advisory committee concluded that “cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action”.

With ample studies on the prevalence of obesity and the impact of sugar, there seems to be plausible evidence that labeling sugary drinks would be considered appropriate, if not appraisable, remedial action.

Yet despite how commendable the purpose and the policy, the ultimate question remains, will it even change buying behavior? Alcohol and tobacco have been explicitly cited for their negative health effects yet remain million dollar industries.

As advertisers we must consider both how warning labels affect the psyche of our target consumers and how such affects buying behavior. While we don’t know the specific answers to those questions quite yet, a recent study has shed some light on the current sugar-centric issue. Analyzing warning labels and their effectiveness, the study showed that labels on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) “improved parents’ understanding of health harms associated with overconsumption of such beverages and may reduce parents’ purchase of SSBs for their children”.

Improving the understanding of the harmful effects of sugar is the primary goal, but is the addition of a label enough to change purchasing decisions? This issue isn’t asking consumers to switch from, for example, using Tide to Gain, or Lysol to Clorox. For some, sugar isn’t just an ingredient; it’s a craving, an addiction.

Scientists have found that sugar is addictive and stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as cocaine or heroin. Just like those hard-core drugs, getting off sugar leads to withdrawal and cravings, requiring an actual detox process to wean off”.

Will seeing a label be enough to leave something on the shelf or will bodily craving simply trump all cognitive reason? Much like its tobacco predecessor, health consciousness requires a full campaign, not just a label. It has taken years for smoking to decrease among high school students and adults. It’s taken a movement of health education to instill the damages caused by tobacco, it will take the same for our sugar obsession.

Lobbying for a label is simply just one piece of a much larger and much needed PR campaign. In this case, adding a label is equivalent to having published a single press release and expecting major changes. Everyone who works with public perception knows it will take much, much more. It will take endorsements, education, and media traction across the board. The recent FDA proposal to update our current nutrition model and labels could be the needed piggyback opportunity, and one that legislators should be considering in order gain needed newsworthiness.

Overall, an effective campaign is one that will be able to impact an impressionable youth AND sway hardened adults. While lawmakers have moral grounds (in this case), bottling companies have advertising, who do you think will win?

– Savannah Valade and Caroline Robinson

Wearables: Stepping up in 2016

The blog is back! Returning from Europe (Savannah) and the novelty of a new job (Caroline), we are both excited to end our hiatus with the start of the new year. A new year of posts, insights, and tips for and from young professionals!

Of course with any new year also come the obligatory resolutions. The one at the top of your list may not be all that different from the majority of others, ours included: health and wellness. Many finished with the holiday celebrations, are back to working off those gained pounds in time for the summer months. One might notice that not only are your gym colleagues wearing new fitness apparel but also sporting new fitness gadgets. Many tech companies are taking note of the wearable craze, and those producing the gadgets are cashing in.

Most recognizable in the turf of these fitness trackers is Fitbit. Remaining the front-runner this Christmas among consumers, during the holiday, the company’s app surged 20 spots to the number one position in Apple’s App Store. The boost in downloads clearly indicated many were buying or receiving the wristbands as gifts this holiday season. Although Black Friday sales for the ‘bits’ were seemingly so-so, the momentum towards Christmas showed Fitbit’s Q3 numbers captured 22.2% of the entire fitness wearable market.

fitbit pic

Even though Fitbit may be currently dominating, there’s no shortage of devices. Other trackers such as Jawbone, the Microsoft band, Garmin’s vivo line and Polar, have saturated the wearable device market. As the fitness division continues to be eagerly received, tech companies are pressing the expansion of the wearable market as a whole. The release of highly anticipated smartwatches like the Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear S2, have propelled wearables to a new dimension – one that allows for a more integrated experience in all aspects of the consumer’s life.

smart watches

Now a wearable is not only a device that collects and stores information about personal health, but a device that allows one to more easily communicate with others, explore surrounding areas, and even live life without a wallet. The age of wearables is beginning and you can expect to see devices with more function, a wider range of capabilities, and outside of the wristwatch form.

In fact, Google’s once anticipated eyewear seems to be making a comeback as a new prototype of Google Glass surfaced on the Federal Communications Commission website this week. While only tweaks to the design can be visibly seen, such as the ability to physically fold like normal eyewear, the actual smart functions of the glasses are unforeseen. Despite not knowing the functional details, the giant’s reinvigoration of the eyewear shows health, growth, and opportunity in the market.

google eyewear

After novelty wears off it’s easy for resolutions to be kicked to the curb, however, wearables don’t seem to be phasing out anytime soon. According to a survey by the Consumer Technology Association, 74% of online American adults are likely to purchase health and fitness technology in the next 12 months. Others are already speculating how fitness monitors could completely change the landscape of healthcare coverage. Rather than once a year, what if health insurance payments fluctuated daily determined by a health sensor, asks Parmy Olson of Forbes. Yet, as we mentioned, wearables are not contained to just fitness. While much of the wearable future remains visionary right this second, as devices reach greater maturity and acceptance, APX Labs predict a six-fold growth in production in the year 2016.

If 2016 does become the year of explosion, as marketers we realize the mass amount of opportunity that would follow not only in the physical production of the devices but also within their virtual interface. As the devices and their platforms sophisticate, just as it has with any other smart medium, come the sequential fields of app production, app purchases, and in app advertisements. Wearables will surely be the next coveted outlet for ad space and a perfect channel to do so; they spend all day monitoring us, continually collecting human data – health, location, monetary, and entertainment habits. As consumers need to have the next big thing coincides with a craze that provides continuous data collection, marketers are sure to hit gold within the evolving wearable industry.

Do you own any wearable tech already? Do you find it useful? With smartphones already offering so many capabilities, do you feel as if you need anymore gadgets? Interested in other devices you can get your hands on? Check out this year’s Wearables 50 2016. Leave a comment and let us know what you think this 2016’s big trends are going to be!

– Savannah Valade & Caroline Robinson