From Climate Change to Corn Sugar: Implementation By and Implications For PR

How do you change the momentum of an issue? Reframe it or rename it. In the past twenty years, we’ve seen our share of relabeling real life issues: global warming became “climate change”, estate tax transformed into “death tax” (both thanks to this guy) and now high fructose corn syrup has become “corn sugar.”  But what does this actually mean from a public relations perspective?

In the case of climate change, the result is a more accurate term: “climate change” reflects both the increases AND decreases in temperature caused by greenhouse gases and other environmental factors, even though some of the urgency disappears. “Death tax” is blatantly political, but it has still been absorbed in the media and consequently, public discourse. And “corn sugar” settles into a third category: corporate speak. The one that strikes fear into the hearts of true PR professionals, who choose to persuade the public with facts rather than repackaging.

But the Corn Refiners Association’s new campaign for high fructose corn syrup doesn’t stop at dressing it up as corn sugar. They make their target audience seem silly for not wanting to consume it (and like terrible boyfriends, coincidentally). And after the recent push toward healthier, “slower” food, we could see why. As our Twitter follower @GreatNorthern says, “Good move on corn’s part. High fructose corn syrup was becoming a swear word.”

But should the Corn Refiners Association have full license to “rebrand” its product, especially when it plays a direct role in the public’s perception of healthy foods? The FDA thinks so, as it approved the entry of “corn sugar” into the conversation circulated by national advertising and the rehashing of it on mommy blogs, by community organizations, at the water cooler and everywhere else that YouTube goes. Some may argue that if the public wants the facts on food, they won’t take any commercial’s word for it. But in today’s world, how many Americans trust the advice of their favorite blogger over that of their doctor or dietician, and how many of those bloggers receive kickbacks from various corporations? We hope this issue will start a discussion on public relations’ role in the world of Web 2.0 and the short-sighted tendency to “reword” hot button issues rather than focusing on long-term, two-way communication.


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