How should brands deal with the sensational media debate on consumer health?




Neil Bayley

Sensationalised media debates around nutrients, food and diets can easily cause an ill-informed media storm which can impact on a brand’s reputation, damage sales, misinform policy debate and skew the regulatory environment.

To explore these themes, Good Relations hosted a recent breakfast roundtable with Manaaz Akhtar, European Marketing Director for the SUBWAY® brand, Richard Laming, Head of Public Affairs for Ferrero UK and Amanda Ursell, nutritionist and columnist for The Sun who spoke about how brands adapt to the media environment.

The panel and participants discussed eight key points for brands to consider:

1. A brand cannot just think that product labelling is the end of their corporate responsibility. Above all, companies must have integrity which informs their activities, from a product reformulation strategy to promoting the physical well-being of their staff.

2. Many brands will have “indulgent” products as part of their portfolios. These are part of the nutritional landscape and should not be hidden. However, you have to have sound messaging and remember it is not what you sell that necessarily counts, it is what you promote.

3. Traditional media will typically provide a balanced story even if you don’t like the headline – although that “balance” may only come at the end of the article which may not be widely read. However, newspapers will often follow up health related news stories with features written by a qualified nutritionist or health writer which provide an opportunity to explore the wider issues in a more depth and context.

4. Brands should not be naïve about social media. On nutrition issues, social media is like the Wild West with digital commentators often driven by ego, who have very few qualifications, and can easily wreak havoc on brands.

5. Brands should shout more about the changes they are making to their products, including in the production process which are often hidden. A good news story is often one that is counter intuitive and after bashing brands for a long time, good news stories can get traction if they have an interesting angle.

6. Reformulation is only successful if it is commercially successful; otherwise consumers shift to another “unhealthy” product. Brands must be clear that reformulation takes time (and not all their product range can be reformulated necessarily at the same time). 

7. Telling your story is important. Those engaged will listen, but it is important (in public policy terms) for those who switch off, that the process continues.

8. Sensational media reporting often informs political debates. Politicians can’t regulate diet so will perhaps inevitably focus on diet components. Political engagement is as important as media engagement.

Good Relations offers a range of clients advice and support in managing their reputation in relation to health and nutrition issues, capturing the attention of pressure groups, policy makers and journalists. If you are looking for a fresh perspective or support in this area, please contact Ruth:

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