Do your public service and stand for more than ‘sell’

The Government’s anti-obesity drive, Change4Life, is back on the radar of marketers and the public, as it has been intermittently since it launched in January 2009. The approach to implementation of the strategy has changed more than once in the intervening period as successive political philosophies regarding government budgets balanced against corporate contribution, the voice of lobby groups (both brand and consumer) and learnings have come to the fore.


The strategy has delivered healthy debate that still continues about funding, corporate responsibility and whether regulatory action is the way to push brand commitment to developing “healthier” products. The idea of a Change4Life ‘kitemark’ to appear on “products or services that promote healthy lifestyles” is being floated again, according to Public Health England (PHE), the executive body of the Department of Health.

Of interest to marketers is that PHE is looking to extend the Change4Life strategy into other areas as it tries to cut back government spending. This includes youth-focused issues, such as sexual health.

There will always be doubts over whether brands have too much of a vested interest to make a suitable partner for vital societal communications. But if we accept that in straitened times, funding has to be found and that brands should show social responsibility by supporting educational programmes, then there is a real opportunity for brands to “stand for something”. And making your brand stand for something more than just selling products has been a major topic at many industry gatherings in the past 12 months, from the One Young World summit to the recent ISBA conference.

However, authenticity is paramount. Your brand has to have some credibility or umbilical link to the educational programme you choose to support, and if not you have to work very hard to turn public opinion to your favour. And make sure there are no conflicting skeletons on the corporate closet.

McDonald’s had a tough time of it when it began supporting the London 2012 Olympics, as general opinion of the brand seemed to suggest it was a poor fit with health and athleticism. However, McDonald’s worked intensely to demonstrate it could stand for community involvement with its volunteer programme and could endorse a healthy lifestyle with its Happy Meal giveaways that measured the amount of exercise children do. I’d say it made a strong case for being an authentic Olympic partner.

So, partnering a government initiative is not a free ride into public goodwill nor a box-ticking exercise for the CSR section of the annual report. But likewise, there could be an opportunity for the right brands to amplify core values, differentiate from competitors and contribute to a healthier society. Let’s see who can manage that.



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