The Label Made Me Do It

As someone who’s spent years working on behalf of food and health brands, I understand the critical need for solid communication about the nutritional value – or lack of it – in food products, particularly convenience or fast foods. But, when I read about lawsuits against food companies filling up the court dockets, as reported yesterday by the Wall Street Journal, I get concerned.
Not about the calories in my Twizzlers. I’m more upset about the suits choking the system. I actually think people have a responsibility to educate themselves about health and nutrition. And if they choose to overindulge, then that’s their choice. Radical, right?
This isn’t to say that deceptive labeling, marketing, or inappropriate advertising targeted to special audiences, like kids, should be tolerated. It shouldn’t, and shoppers can respond pretty powerfully, but not buying such products.
But, my background  makes me appreciate the other side of the argument, and the occasional absurdities that can result. Several years ago, I represented Weight Watchers, by all accounts the gold standard of sensible, non-faddist weight loss, in an action brought by a Congressman that led to an FTC investigation about misleading marketing practices. An example of such “deception” was that Weight Watchers’ ads and marketing materials failed to clearly state that if you stopped following the WW program, you’d probably gain back the weight you lost. 
I’m serious – your tax dollars at work.  As in this case, so often the problem is politics, or political grandstanding. The irony, is few of the changes that result instill truly healthful habits. That, too, has to come from personal responsibility. …like my vow to kick the Twizzlers habit.
Fat chance.

Getting The Twitter Religion

I was all set to blog about all the fun Passover action on social networking sites – the constant tweets and updates, the Facebook Haggadah, the Twitter widget for locating a seder in your zip code, when another holiday use of social networking caught my eye.

Trinity Wall Street Church in New York will “Twitter the Passion” by performing what it calls the first Passion Play performed through Twitter.  The Church invites a far-flung congregation to follow “a contemporary recreation of Christ’s passion” and be part of a global audience by following via cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone, or other web connection.  The content lasts for three hours and includes photos, Biblical passages, prayers, and music.   When I started this blog, there were under 75 followers for twspassionplay, but it’s now grown to over 300 and no doubt will pick up steam by Easter Sunday.

Great concept.  My Southern Baptist grandma is probably rolling in her grave, but, if some of us put our faith in social networking, why shouldn’t others use social networking to show faith?

Last Night A Twitter Saved A Life

The social media thing can seem frivolous at times…after all, we’re not talking about saving lives, right?

Wrong.  Yesterday, actress and celebrity Twitterati Demi Moore reportedly helped stop a possible suicide attempt by a woman who tweeted her intent to cut her arm to kill herself. (I admit I follow mrskutcher, and even saw the comment in question, but assumed it was part of another conversation, so I missed its seriousness.)  But the episode is another illustration of the power and immediacy of Twitter, and along with other recent events, it highlights the  difference between the Facebook and Twitter communities.   Ironically, the gap between the two has widened since Facebook’s recent redesign, which ostensibly made it more Twitter-like.

From my recent explorations of Twitter, the communities are very different from a user perspective.  Nick O’Neill did an interesting comparison that noted, among other things, that Facebook users expect to talk with one another about celebrities and brand, whereas on Twitter, there is always the possibility of two-way interaction, like the Demi Moore drama.  For my money, Twitter is far more business-focused, self-referential, and potentially more useful, particularly since it tends to involve people I haven’t met.  It’s grabbed the celebrity and corporate brand followings, as well as a vibrant, sophisticated and very eclectic community of techpreneurs, consultants, thinkers, writers, and many others who use it to promote their businesses, brands and projects.  Yet, as a meritocracy, Twitter will punish those who spam or overtweet, so it tends to self-regulate.

Facebook, by contrast, with its huge community, is still a far better gauge of what’s popular, what’s happening, and what constitutes real personal interaction among social groups. But, to my knowledge, it hasn’t saved a life.

Manic Recession

I’m fascinated by some of the words and expressions that have been coined by what some PR types (like me) have euphemistically called the recent “downturn.”   My favorites are “chiconomics” and “recessionista,” since it’s fun and consoling to think you can stay stylish while being frugal.

But after reading Maureen Dowd’s editorial earlier in the week, I fear that the term “affluenza,” taken from the PBS program and book of the same name, is more appropriate for many New Yorkers. We’ve overindulged in consumerist behavior to our detriment and are now undergoing a kind of “detox” just as the banking system tries to do the same. But there are some rewards to changing habits.

As a consumer, I run to extremes.  When the market started to melt down last year, I clamped a tight lid on discretionary spending – the headlines and my own tendency to catastrophize had me watching every penny.  It was so draconian that I recently either slipped up or rebelled in the form of a minor gift-buying spree at the Gap, a store so ubiquitous and utilitarian that I never thought of it as anything but a note on my to-do list.  But, after months of relative restraint, and given that I tend to buy everything online at, say, midnight, it was mildly thrilling to walk into a store in the middle of the day and dig through spring tops and brightly-colored spring accessories.  The sheer frivolity of a shopping errand that a year ago would have been utterly ordinary was a tonic, and I’m not even ashamed.  I may even do it again.