Advertisers looking to differentiate food brands within a crowded
market have found a new way of attracting consumers' attention -
promising them good health.
Last week saw the launch of two campaigns for unremarkable everyday
products - Orbit chewing gum, through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, and
Juice-Up, created by HHCL & Partners. Both chose not to focus on the
products' obvious selling points such as taste or image. Instead they
opted to concentrate on less instantly apparent health benefits.
Of course, the argument that a product is good for you is nothing
Kellogg has been advertising cereal brands such as Special K and
All-Bran along these lines for years. However, the volume of
advertisers' medical claims seems to be increasing - witness the recent
science-drenched campaigns for the cholesterol-lowering Benecol - and
the 'product-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away' line is being applied more and
When Danone starts marketing its bottled water as a groundbreaking
potential source of calcium, you start to ask what can't be advertised
as a health product. Food and drink that we used to guzzle in simple
ignorance now sounds increasingly like it should be prescribed by a
Making medical or health claims on food packaging or in an ad campaign
is a well-documented minefield. But coming up with new formulations of
health benefits in substances that you never thought of as healthy
before is even trickier. For this you need original medical research.
And even that is no guarantee of success.
Legislation concerning health claims is restrictive and defending the
claims extremely costly. Glaxo SmithKline took the Advertising Standards
Authority to court after the ASA upheld complaints from consumers over
claims that Ribena ToothKind did not encourage tooth decay. The company
had spent pounds 19 million and four years investing in and researching
the product, obtaining endorsement from the British Dental Association,
but can no longer use the claims in its marketing.
AMV says Wrigley's watched the Glaxo SmithKline case with interest in
the run-up to the relaunch of Orbit. Jo Wisbey, the agency's senior
account manager on the Orbit business, said it was impossible for the ad
to make claims about the effectiveness of the key new ingredient,
Xylitol, as the research done by Wrigley's had been completed outside
the European Union. However, she points out that the product already
benefits from a well-established health heritage. 'Obviously, Orbit has
a heritage of being healthy since it was launched in the 70s as a
sugar-free gum,' she says. 'The brand advocated the benefits of chewing
to the teeth, and has grown with the backing of dental
Britvic's category director, Andrew Marsden, is hoping to build just
such a heritage for the Juice-Up brand. He says that the ad strategy
developed with HHCL aims to achieve this by targeting both the children
who consume the product and the parents who buy it. 'It's a two-pronged
strategy,' he explains. 'We have to make children want to choose it over
other brands, so image must be addressed as well as the taste, but to
attract parents, we have to focus on its calcium content.'
Marsden claims that there are two approaches (educational and
inspirational) to health-orientated advertising and warns that choosing
the right one can have dramatic results on the success of the
'Food is instantly personal - the message you give in an ad is crucial,'
he argues. 'It is possible to overstep the mark by preaching to
The secret is getting the benefits over fast and accurately, without
being patronising. Potential customers are in adult mode when health
issues are addressed - they don't want to be flattered or cajoled, and
it's essentially difficult to be creative about things like fibre.'
However, as the number of products advertised in this way increases, it
seems that more attention is being paid to establishing a creative
balance. After all, it becomes difficult to achieve standout in a food
category if every product's spots drily inform the consumer about
AMV's spot for the Orbit relaunch, featuring a man with a giant chewing
gum packet crushing confectionery, is perhaps the most experimental
example of health advertising seen yet, and a healthy distance from the
traditional chewing gum spots featuring line graphs of tooth decay
Similarly, the campaign created by BMP DDB's French office for Danone
goes for a creative approach intended to appeal to adults and children
alike. Whether animated skeletons on skateboards is everyone's idea of
how to sell calcium-enriched mineral water is more open to question.
Kellogg may have recently withdrawn its Ensemble range of enriched foods
following poor sales, but there are plenty of other examples of the
medical approach reviving a product.
PepsiCo saw its Tropicana fruit juice brand surge to dominate the US
market after it was divided into separately packaged products, marketed
with specific health benefits. Consumers could choose between orange
juice with additional vitamin C, vitamin D or calcium among others. The
resultant surge in sales saw Tropicana eclipse its rival MinuteMaid.
Now it appears that the UK is developing a similarly wide-ranging taste
for functional foods - provided the marketing strategy is sound. Glaxo
SmithKline does not appear to have been deterred by its Ribena ToothKind
experience. The company aims to train the marketers for consumer
products such as Lucozade to use the same strategies as for the
company's pharmaceutical products.
In the final analysis, the commercial gains to be made for forging a
path through the choppy waters of medical claims marketing are just too
big to ignore. As the race to offer the healthiest product in a given
sector hots up, agencies will be asked to sail closer to the wind of
Food Standards Agency and ASA regulations.
Kate Purcell, the communications director at McNeil Consumer Products,
which launched Benecol, says: 'When the product was launched it was
alongside a rival, Unilever's Flora Proactiv.
It was crucial for our marketing and advertising strategy to be
WHAT THE BACC SAID ABOUT ADVERTISERS' HEALTH CLAIMS
Tropicana: Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB: 'It's making a claim for the
content of multi-vitamins. It should be self-evident really. It's
important to remember that none of these ads are making comparative
claims against other products in the category.'
Orbit: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London: 'We have sought expert advice
on this one. There's no doubt that chewing gum does produce saliva and
that is helpful in reducing incidence of cariogenic (tooth decay)
occurrences and cavities. That's a proven fact. Because Orbit is
sugar-free, it is even better in that respect.'
Danone Activ: BMP DDB, France: 'It's making claims for added calcium
content in water and calcium is proven to help in bone formation and in
delaying the onset of osteoporosis. Again, we sent the details to a
consultant and asked them to assess benefits on quality of product.'
Benecol: Saatchi & Saatchi, London: 'We sought expert advice again here.
Obviously it's quite a complex claim and lots of evidence was produced
in favour of it. Our expert agreed it does have an effect on lowering