PR Lions winner defends campaign from accusations of bad science

The marketing chief of the grocery retailer whose campaign won the PR Lions Grand Prix has defended the scientific validity of The Organic Effect, following criticism both before and after the win.

The Organic Effect, created by Swedish ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors for retailer Coop, was the Grand Prix winner at Wednesday night's PR Lions.

The campaign centres on a film documenting a Swedish family switching to a fully organic diet with scientists measuring pesticide levels in their daily urine samples. It increased Coop sales of organic products, and increased organic sales in Sweden generally.

A Forbes writer criticised the campaign earlier this month for "conveniently not covering the list of pesticides used in organic farming", while another blog says that the campaign "fearmongers" by not discussing the effect of the pesticides on human health. It has also been reported that the campaign faced a legal challenge by a Swedish crop protection and pesticides industry body.

Writing on the company's blog, PR firm WE's APAC and EMEA president Alan VanderMolen says he was "outraged by the selection", going on to say: "I think it perverts the basic concepts that PR as an industry is charged to uphold – transparency and third-party validation."

In addition, he told PRWeek: "The win makes a mockery of what PR stands for and puts quality film ahead of quality and transformative content."

Björn Larsson, CMO at Coop, said he stood by the quality of the research, which was carried out by an independent body, the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. He also addressed the criticism of the film that it did not test for the pesticides used in organic farming, saying that in a separate test it had been shown that these did not stay in people's bodies in the same way.

Larsson said: "We did this study because we wanted to know what happens in your body if you switch to organic food. The result was so astonishing that we decided to show it to the public. We believe that it is important that all consumers can make informed choices."

He also said it was not the firm's intention to be misleading to consumers, saying: "We wanted to spark a debate, contribute some knowledge and get people to stop and think."

Larsson also sent PRWeek a note from the firm's general counsel saying that a court summons application brought against Coop by crop protection body Svenskt Växtskydd had been rejected by the court. This note had also been shared with Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas.

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