Great Swapathon is a big step forward for the obese

17 Jan

The British are swapping deep fried mars bars

FOR lovely carrot sticks

I’ve read conflicting views of the Department of Health’s recently launched Change for Life Great Swapathon. A mouthful in itself, the idea is that the British government, with the help of the world’s biggest food businesses (Asda, Birds Eye, JJB Sports, Nestle, Mars, Unilever, Warburtons and Weight Watchers), The Sun and News of the World, bribe the British general public to drop their deep fried mars bars and pick up an apple instead. We’re offered a book of £50 vouchers to swap bad for good and that’s the problem. The ‘good’ is not necessarily that good especially if it is a branded box of still highly sugared yet ‘baked’ cereal that costs twice as much as the usual without the coupon.

British magazine Marketing Week wrote recently of the ‘Great Swapathon rip off’ and the BBC reports that Professor for Food Policy at City University in London Tim Lang called it a ‘corporate brand protection strategy rather than a public health one.’

At first I agreed with them. You can no doubt pick up a hint of cynicism in my intro and having a marketeer’s DNA I can smell a brand campaign a mile away. At first glance, spending £250m to convince fatties to be healthy seems like a giant waste of my hard earned taxes. I’ve only just convinced my Mum to drink freshly squeezed lemon juice and warm water in the mornings. However, and a big however – something has to be done. Obesity in children as one impact of bad nutrition has increased to 30% from 25% in 1995,  and the statistic is due to grow.

People like me, who care about and know about basic nutrition are the unusual and the extreme. Others have a clue that they should be eating better, but not even heart attacks or cancer scares can make them cut back and change. Will this work for a generally ignorant general public looking for a quick fix?

When I do my sums, the campaign only costs taxpayers a fiver a head and, having worked on a proposed arts council campaign to bring the arts to the general public, I can say that £250m is peanuts and alone would make no headway whatsoever. We need the additional food manufacturer and retailer budgets and distribution channels to reach the masses and then we need their ‘healthier’ range of products to ease them into making life long changes.

The 5-a-day campaign is working - so will The Great British Swapathon

And – most importantly when you look at statistics for the 5-a-day campaign. It is working. 21% of children now eat 5 portions of fruit and vege a day compared to just 10% in 2001.

Charlene from Essex may not swap her daily bacon butty for a carrot stick for a million pounds but she might choose omega plus enhanced granary bread instead of preserved white plastic slabs.

It’s not raw food, and not chlorella smoothies but I think the programme is a brilliant step in the right direction, superb value for money considering the long term benefits to children in terms of fundamental education and awareness and the food companies, for once, are doing something positive too. This is marketing. Marketing works to change behaviours in this case – for good. The critics, including the Children’s Food Campaign, who said, ‘this analysis exposes the Great Swapathon for what it really is – a great marketing opportunity for the companies involved, but of little benefit to consumers’ pockets or health’, should get over it and behind it, unless of course, they have a better idea.

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