On December 14, Hindustan Times came up with a news report “Delhi kids high on list of junk food lovers, beat other metros”.
The report mentions the findings done by research agency A C Nielsen and goes on to say: ”In Delhi, 33% kids snacked on fast food every day and around 60% families had dinner late, leading to unhealthy lifestyle…..The study revealed that consumption of soup as a snack had increased in the past three years. From ranking 10th in 2010, it has become the fourth choice for a pre-dinner snack pan-India, including Delhi.”
The report may seem an impartial publication of findings by a reputed research agency. However, the fact that the survey was commissioned by the company Knorr Soups has been conveniently dropped.
Though the journalist may have practised objectivity by dropping the brand name, he/she only ended up lending much more credibility to the survey which now seems to be an independent exercise.
At the heart of it is also the work of intelligent PR. The news report imitates the marketing strategy of Knorr Soups in totality: first create fear of the problem and then present the solution.
At the 2010 Effies Award held in Mumbai, the company revealed how it launched its concept “saat baje kee bhookh”. Before the campaign launch, help of PR agencies was taken to plant articles on unhealthy snacking in various publications. Later, advertisements featuring brand ambassador actor Kajol, representing the new-age mom, who introduces “healthy” Knorr Soup as an alternative to unhealthy snacks made the rounds.
It is important to mention here that ready-to-make soup is not the healthiest snack option. According to tests done by the Consumer Education and Research Society last year, all six brands of tomato soup available in India have sodium and sugar contents higher than the permissible amount.
Publication of Knorr Soup survey is not a stray instance. Earlier this year, the CLEAR Paris Institute conducted what it called “Global Scalp Analysis Survey” which found that India and China have maximum number of people (70 per cent each) in the world who suffer from dandruff. Needless to say India and China are the two biggest markets in the world currently which is why the findings were timed to coincide with the Indian launch of CLEAR’s new dandruff removal shampoo with “breakthrough formulation”.
The terminology “Global Scalp Analysis Survey” was also a misnomer. The survey only had people from 10 countries, including two South American developing countries, six Asian economies, Russia, and Germany. Instead of researchers bending over scalps of 12,764 participants with magnifying lens for “scalp analysis”, the survey was actually done through online interviews. Nevertheless, the findings were too sensational to be missed by the media, never mind its credibility. The survey made it to the PTI news feed and was picked up by various publications and news websites.
The findings of the Global Hygiene Council survey also make big news whenever they are released. Without fail, Indians and their households are found to be among the least hygienic in its survey reports. These findings are lapped up by all the media houses which pretend to be ignorant of the fact that the council, purportedly an independent group of global hygiene experts, is actually supported by Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Dettol and Lizol. The theme song remains: Indians should wash their hands with anti-bacterial soap (read Dettol) more regularly and use disinfectant (read Lizol) to clean the frequently touched surfaces. The study also found that most households do not use the correct cleaning agents to remove mould from their houses.
The year 2011 was different. This time, Council’s HABIT study found equally attractive markets of South Africa, China, and Malaysia to be having poorest hygiene habits. These findings were respectively played up in the media of these countries.
However, this information and the improved statistics related to India were not released to the media here. Instead, the press release harped on the fact that globally “people who have good manners have better personal hygiene and are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to have good health with low levels of colds and diarrhoea.”
A survey conducted by A C Nielsen and commissioned by Kaya, a chain of skin clinics, harped on the fact that urban women don’t mind spending pots of money on skin products and anti-ageing treatments. No wonder, Kaya’s ageless range products cost Rs. 800 per 50 ml.
One of the reasons these commissioned surveys may look appealing is, unlike proper research studies, they specifically deal with concerns of urban population, which is also the target audience of most media groups. The fact that these are actually indirect marketing campaigns gets lost in the haze.