Skip to main content

Table 2 Campaign Summary of The Sugar Association’s 1976 Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil Award. [10, 32]

From: In defense of sugar: a critical analysis of rhetorical strategies used in The Sugar Association’s award-winning 1976 public relations campaign

I. Problem: Sugar, because of its universal usage and visibility, was a natural, target for the lay nutritionists and promoters of fad foods and diets who appeared to capitalize on the concern generated by the consumer movement. Unfortunately, many well-meaning consumer advocates and lay writers were mislead [sic] by this promotional onslaught. In addition, the psychology of sweetness works against sugar, with critics maintaining it is a conditioned response.
As a result, the industry faced a barrage of criticism in the media suggesting that public consumption of ever-increasing amounts of sugar was responsible for a far-ranging variety of health problems. The volume was sufficient to cause concern among the industry’s primary publics: the medical community, nutritional professionals, user industries, government health officials and the consuming public.
II. Research: An extended survey of public attitudes by National Analysts, Inc. suggested that support for sugar was stronger than anticipated and that sugar’s primary publics would be receptive to the scientific facts.
An independent survey of existing scientific data and literature search headed by Dr. F. J. Stare, chairman of Harvard’s Dept. of Nutrition, revealed sugar to be a safe food that in certain forms does contribute to dental caries. As well, it indicated that, the desire for sweet is inherent and that U.S. per-capita consumption had not changed in 50 years.
III. Objectives/Short-Term: Reach the following target audiences with the scientific facts concerning sugar and enlist their aid in educating the consuming public: A. The medical community; B. Nutritional professionals; C. Sugar-using industries; D. The media; E. Government health officials.
Objectives/Long-Term: To establish with the broadest possible audience- virtually everyone is a consumer—the safety of sugar as a food and that in moderation it plays an important role in a balanced diet.
IV. Strategy: A. Drop all Assn. advertising; B. Move to a program of public information and education; C. Enlist the counsel of leading medical experts; D. Organize the scientific facts concerning sugar into cohesive documents; E. Let qualified medical experts speak for the industry, regardless of potential negatives; F. Respond immediately to all public criticisms; G. Seek media objectivity and balance, not necessarily objective coverage; H. Promote an understanding of sound basic nutrition; I. Stand up publicly against the purveyors of nutrition misinformation; J. Acknowledge sugar’s vulnerability in the area of dental caries and direct research to this problem.
 1. Fostered the organization of an independent Food & Nutrition Advisory Council (six doctors/two dentists) to counsel the industry and help it select appropriate medical research projects.
 2. Stimulated the research arm of the industry to fund recommended research projects, to learn more about sugar and provide additional information.
 3. Requested the FNAC to organize existing scientific facts concerning sugar in a series of papers. These were published” in World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics as “Sugar in the Diet of Man.” Distributed 25,000 reprints.
 4. Produced a 26-min film (“Nutrition’ Is”) on basic nutrition, for general distribution, that does not discuss sugar.
 5. Commenced a regional Nutrition Information Program, using free-lance dietitians, to take the sugar story to nutritional professionals.
 6. Appeared twice before the Newspapers/ Food Editors with a panel of doctors, once discussing sugar and health; once the crisis in nutrition information.
 7. Distribute literature to food editors and science writers.
 8. Respond to all public criticisms of sugar; send literature.
 9. Support university and professional information campaigns against individuals and organizations dispensing misleading nutritional matter.
 10. Speak out in speeches and public statements against nutrition misinformation, as-well as reiterating the facts concerning sugar.
 11. Counsel and exchange information with sugar-using industry groups.
 12. Organize two national mailings to doctors/1. Heart Disease, 2. Obesity.
 13. Gain equal time on TV by offering up medical experts to respond to inaccurate lay criticism, with major efforts to counter the misinformation dispensed during “Food Day” and the inaccuracies in the book, “Sugar Blues.”
 14. Publish “Sugar in the News,” a digest of what is being said about sugar concerning health, to determine reportorial balance.
 15. Regularly circulate mini-documentary radio tapes using prominent doctor and dentists as interviewees/200 stations.
 16. Encourage the use of the Assn. Washington office as a reliable source of nutrition information; recommend expert scientific sources.
 17. Work regularly with newspapers, wire services and magazines, providing background, short takes and filler, as well as assisting in the preparation of feature articles. Have requested balanced reporting.
 18. Maintain contact with key federal government health officials and regularly provide pertinent information regarding sugar and health.
 19. Attend conventions of professional dietitians, food technologists, home economists and various user-industry groups.
Measurement has been directed to short-term objectives. The Assn. has analyzed its results on the basis of’ the understanding it has developed with, its key publics (see objectives) with volume of publicity a secondary consideration. Emphasis has been placed on the program’s ability to stem, the flow of reckless commentary. With proper understanding the subject of sugar and health will inspire only nominal coverage.
 I. Medical Community: Organization of the Food & Nutrition Advisory Council and distribution of literature have won the attention of this public. Doctors countrywide have assisted in taking the facts of sugar to the public—speaking engagements, TV appearances, press interviews. The Assn. has been told its accuracy, willingness to discuss problems (dental caries) and funding of research has established credibility in the medical community.
 II. [Nutritional] Professionals: “Sugar in the Diet of Man” has become the primary sugar source document for dietitians and home economists, in that it provides the scientific facts to teach and convey the sugar story. Direct contact through the regional Information Program, mailings, convention sessions and participation in programs has established the Assn. as a ready source of substantiated information. Its stand against nutritional misinformation has won attention and respect: its position on basic nutrition corresponds to those of leading professional organizations.
 III. [Sugar-] Users: They now support Assn. recommended research, distribute. Assn. literature, seek counsel on nutritional matters and publicly defend sugar.
 IV. Media: Attacks on sugar in the media have diminished sharply, and those that appear tend to be far more objective. Positive commentary has helped establish reportorial balance. Some major magazines now maintain they tacitly endorse sugar. In challenging the networks, the Assn. has been able to gain valuable TV response time. Having gotten to know the national food-editors, the Assn. frequently has the opportunity to respond in print to local attacks SA has become a source of reliable information and a vehicle for introducing scientists to the media. Inquiries have increased markedly.
 V. Government: Two major announcements—one by the National Academy of Sciences and the other by the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) Review Committee have been highly supportive of sugar, making it unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming, years.