Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food Revolution - Marketing Strategy

Here I am, with the final installment of my commentary on Food Revolution, after indulging in all the sugary goodies that’s associated with the holiday season. I felt this smallest pang of guilt writing about eating healthy while indulging away from the keyboard, but the end of indulgence is near, so here’s the post:

Being a student of marketing strategies adopted by high tech. companies, I found Jamie’s strategy very interesting. I thought some of it was clever but also spotted some missed opportunities.

1. Jamie offered free cooking lessons at different points in time to the community. There seemed to be an implicit assumption that it’s only fast food and processed food that is unhealthy, and that one of the contributing factors why the people of Huntington were eating unhealthy food was a lack of cooking skill. I found this approach a tad questionable, without educating the population on basics of nutrition. Perhaps Jamie’s recipes were healthy, but it’s very easy to cook extremely unhealthy foods from scratch in one’s own kitchen. I did not see Jamie explaining that it’s perfectly possible to undo the positive effects of eating salad for lunch if you don’t go easy on the dressing or choose your dressing wisely. While the cooking lessons were a good marketing tool in that it brought people together, (hopefully) helped them understand that cooking from scratch can be tasty as well as healthy, I might have taken a more multi-pronged approach.

Specifically, I would have added a basic nutrition education component, and enlisted as allies and sponsors manufacturers of these healthy foods. For instance, I imagine companies like Quaker Oats, the makers of “I can’t believe it’s not butter”, and producers of lean cut meats would have been interested in sponsoring a cooking + education session that promoted their products while enjoying the free publicity and limelight. I felt that partnerships that could have made this even better received were left under utilized.

2. Jamie’s interaction with the radio station host made for drama for TV viewers as well as served as a good marketing tool to raise consumer awareness. I though this was pretty clever, especially the part where Jamie won the bet and made a convert of the talk show host...

3. Initially, Jamie had reached out to the pastor of the local church who was a deep believer in Jamie’s “product". I haven’t seen any episode yet where Jamie took full advantage of the pastor’s support and tried this method of outreach to get his message out to the wider community.

4. While reading up on Huntington, I learned that the city is home to Heiner’s Bakery, and this bakery was owned by Sara Lee Corporation, one of the early manufacturers of the Whole grain white bread. I would have enlisted them as an important ally in my marketing efforts. This company is actively pushing the sales of its healthy breads and the irony of it being manufactured in a city that has more pizza joints than number of health clubs in the entire STATE of West Viriginia is inescapable! As one of the largest employers in the city, one would imagine this would make them the perfect ally but nowhere was this mentioned as a part of his marketing strategy.

On November 10, 2010, Sara Lee sold Heiner’s and other assets as a part of a $959M deal. I imagine the value of their brand equity would have been even higher had they been spotlighted in the national media and consciousness as a result of this show! (Caveat: I don’t know if there is indeed already such a partnership that will be revealed in a future episode!)

5. Nearly 30% of Huntington’s population lives below the poverty line. Huntington’s city council consists of 9 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Can these 2 facts be exploited to levy some kind of “health fee” on the pizzerias and other fast food purveyors in town so as to make fast food more expensive? If that’s illegal, perhaps something along the lines of Santa Clara county’s ban on sale of Happy Meal toys and other promotions that come with high calorie fast food sold to children.... The point is waving a carrot in front of consumers to motivate is great, but coupling it with the right stick to deter unwanted behavior makes it even more effective.

6. Eating better is certainly one way to make the population healthier, but it seems to me that putting the right incentives in place for the citizens to pursue a more active lifestyle should go hand in hand with better eating habits to reach the overall goal of a healthier city. Perhaps the show is skewed this way because Jamie is a chef, but it seems like a great opportunity to couple this show with another TV show such as “The biggest loser” to generate a bigger bang for buck all around.

When the campaign goes national, I would also think about harnessing the power of social media - specifically Facebook and YouTube - to make this viral. I did not list Twitter because I feel that an effort such as this one which needs time before results can be observed is not well suited to the instant nature of Twit-verse. I will of course, take back the suggestion to not use Twitter if celebrities want to get involved and use their fan following to help reach critical mass!

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