It is no secret that many Americans are overweight; 37.5% of adults are obese, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Until about eight years ago, I would have fit that statistic, but then I joined a weight-loss plan and dropped 55 pounds.
That is why I think New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making a powerful statement by trying to ban the sale of supersized sugary drinks in restaurants, food carts, movie theaters, and delis in the five boroughs. So far, the way the mayor's office has been relaying its messages to the public has made an impact, whether positive or negative, on consumers and businesses.
Overnight, the announcement made national headlines and flooded social media networks. The dramatic PR move created swarms of conversation and also drew backlash from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Coca Cola's message to the public was simple - it always lists the nutrition facts of beverages and New Yorkers are smart enough to make their own decisions.
The American Beverage Association responded to the ban by calling the mayor "Nanny" Bloomberg in blogs on its website. They also emailed a survey to reporters showing that the majority of adults oppose the ban. In the meantime, the mayor's office creatively engaged the public on its Twitter page, smartly incorporating tweets from third-party experts and former President Bill Clinton, facts about obesity from the NYC Community Health Survey, and old ads showing how 16-ounce soft drink bottles were once used to serve three people.
As of press time, it seems like so far, the mayor is winning the PR battle, but the war is still up in the air. For Bloomberg to succeed, he needs to explain more of his plan to the public, such as how the ban will affect various venues, such as movie theaters and delis, in different ways and why full-fat, calorie-loaded dairy products are immune to the ban.
On the other side, the American Beverage Association, the restaurant business, and soft-drink giants need to send out a strong, unified message and try to work with the mayor's office on a more targeted plan that will be more palatable to the industry - possibly a ban on supersized sugary drinks in schools, putting America's youth on a healthier track.
The communications fight is far from over for the beverage ban. And since food and freedom of choice are two topics that Americans have very strong feelings about, it may be a while before any common ground is reached. l
Lindsay Stein is the consumer marketing reporter for PRWeek. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.