The Eco Fee Disaster: A Case Study on how not to do Marketing and Communications

As a marketing communications professional who both works and blogs in the area of public sector and non-profit marketing and communications, I tend to see a lot of stuff some good and some bad but I cannot remember in my close to  30 years in the business seeing anything worse than the Ontario’s eco fee disaster . If I was to ever write a case study of how not to public sector marketing and communications this would be it, although the most recent activities by the Harper government with the Long Form Census would come a very close second see my previous blog Research Has Become a Dirty Word: Part Two .

First let me say that I always felt over the years that the folks at Queens Park had their act together and were professional in their communications and marketing but the Ontario’s eco fee disaster makes me wonder who is running the show in Toronto.  Clearly the Premiers office and his communications folks in the bureaucracy let him down. After the e-Health disaster, I thought these guys would get their act together but this obviously is not the case.

As Ellen Roseman points out “it’s a relief to see the Ontario government suspend its controversial eco fee program for three months. I’ve rarely seen the citizens of this province react so angrily to a new initiative. In fact, I expected to see more hostility against the launch of the harmonized sales tax, as in British Columbia. Instead, people seemed to channel their rage into the eco fees, which had a lesser impact on their cost of living than the HST.”

“Maybe it was a case of unfortunate timing, since both came in on the same day (July 1). And maybe it was a case of having a well-executed communication plan for the HST and almost no advance notice for the expanded eco fee program – leading to distress when consumers started seeing mysterious charges on their sales receipts.”

Peter Gorrie Environment Columnist with the Globe and Mail explains “that the fee is part of a larger plan to keep discards out of landfills and, if possible, to recycle or reuse their components. The goal is for the companies that make and sell stuff, and those of us who buy it, to take responsibility for what happens when we’re finished with it. This concept began in this direction in the late-1980s, when the Blue Box was invented to reduce the mountain of garbage created by the switch from refillable pop bottles to single-use containers. Since then, the list of recyclable materials has expanded, and several payment schemes have been tried. The same is happening elsewhere in Canada and around the world. We are, in fact, already well along that road: We pay a tire tax and a charge for disposing used motor oil. Fees were introduced on some electronics products, and we began paying eco fees for some hazardous materials, and that list was expanded 17 days ago.”

Mike Arnett, president of Canadian Tire Retail suggests that the fees, which have been mired in confusion since retailers started charging them on thousands of new items July 1, were the victim of a “botched” roll out and “poorly handled” by everyone involved, “We just think that the whole program that was rolled out was not well-managed by anyone, really, and that it’s caused a great deal of confusion for our customers,” “We’re being asked questions that we don’t have good answers to, and we really think the program needs to be reworked. They set up a very complicated structure for charging eco fees and left retailers to sort it out. “Even more confusing, the ‘interpretation’ of these fees is left up to each retailer — meaning that five different retailers may charge five different eco fees for the exact same product — all depending on how they interpret the very complicated fee structure,”

Stewardship Ontario, an industry-led organization that oversees the program, collects certain fees from retailers and manufacturers. They, in turn, determine the fees that they pass on to consumers. Clearly they didn’t do a good job in preparing Ontario consumers for the new fees. Arnett points out that “Stewardship Ontario did not provide answers to the many questions customers and the media had in the face of fees that nobody understood” “We don’t have good answers — because the program itself isn’t built to be intuitive for either customers or retailers.”

Consumers, critics and some industry groups have been scratching their heads about why certain items are subject to the levy, such as laundry detergent, grass seed and environmentally friendly products that use natural ingredients.

The government initially did not take responsibility for the program shifting all the blame for this fiasco on Stewardship Ontario which obviously was a foolish communications strategy. The government should have never allowed the industry to effectively regulate itself with respect to the eco fees. As NDP leader Andrea Horvath stated “The government dropped the ball, it’s now up to the government to pick up the pieces and ensure the companies that profit off this waste should be responsible for getting rid of it — not their customers,”

Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen stated that he takes “full responsibility” for not doing a better job of communicating the introduction of the new charges. “The bottom line is Stewardship Ontario could have done a better job for rolling out the changes, and we, the Ministry of the Environment, the government, and I as minister, could have done a better job of helping them communicate their changes, and I take full responsibility for that,” said Gerretsen.

Yes Minister but where were you a few weeks ago when this fiasco first hit?

Roseman: Lessons for leaders in Ontario’s eco fee disaster

“Make it simple. You have to craft a quick summary of who you are and what you hope to do. It’s called an elevator pitch, since you want to sell yourself in the time it takes to ride from the ground floor to the top of a high-rise office tower. Stewardship Ontario didn’t prepare an elevator pitch. It provided no coherent explanation of eco fees at its website, nor an easily accessible list of fees to use on a shopping trip. Instead, its messaging was defensive and negative from the start – the media got it wrong, this is not a tax grab, we’re not a government body, we have no involvement in the setting or collection of eco fees and no authority over how stewards manage the fees.

Take accountability. When you get bad press, which often happens when you tamper with the status quo, you have to make yourself visible. It’s a time when a chief executive has to respond to every media call that comes in and squeeze as many interviews into a schedule as possible. It’s not a time to hide from the public, as Stewardship Ontario’s CEO Gemma Zecchini did for a week before issuing a contrite news release. And need I mention that the Premier hasn’t made any statements, delegating everything to his environment minister John Gerretsen?  Keep control. When you’re a leader, you can’t escape responsibility for failure by blaming others. You’re in charge and you must maintain oversight of any arm’s length bodies that carry out your wishes.”

One last thing and this is a message to all public sector and non-profit programs, first have a strategy to consult with stakeholders and make sure they are totally in the loop. When instituting major changes to policy, it is important to conduct some public opinion research to ensure that you won’t receive a backlash from consumers. It is pretty standard to have a communications plan but do you also have a plan to SELL your program or policy? Have you considered doing some marketing… we use marketing to sell products and service so why not programs and policies? Too often we hear program mangers tell us at the Centre that they don’t have time or money to run a proper marketing (public education) program but this is a reminder of the consequences of not running and effective marketing program . I hope that the folks at Stewardship Ontario and the Ministry of Environment have learned their lesson.

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The Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing 2011

Why You Should Attend

  • Develop an action-oriented, strategic marketing plan for your organization
  • Become skilled at setting realistic, practical marketing objectives and goals
  • Learn how to communicate messages effectively to key stakeholders and the public
  • Share experiences with marketers in your sectors and expand your network

Who Should Attend

Managers working for government, crown corporations/agencies, non-profit organization and associations who are responsible for:

  • Marketing programs, products and services targeted to the public, business and government
  • Sponsorship and partnership development
  • Membership development and revenue generation
  • Exhibit and event marketing
  • Social marketing, community outreach and public education programs
  • Strategic communications, media relations and media advocacy
  • Online and web marketing, social media and digital marketing.

For information click here for link

Research Has Become a Dirty Word: Part Two

When I wrote my blog Research has become a “Dirty Word” in the Federal Government , I had no idea how far the government would go in dismissing  valuable research to help guide important government decision making.  Well the recent news about the long –form census being canceled threw me for a loop. When I first heard the news that government would oppose the mandatory long-form census, I thought it was a rumour, or worse a joke or prank but no this is really happening.

Based on news reports, last fall the government decided that they would oppose the mandatory long-form census. Since then, nothing has changed their mind. This policy is being denounced by almost every leading institution and commentator in Canada. See Maclean’s for list

Tabethy Southey in her column: Long-form census? Nah, we’ll ask Paul the octopus points out the  Industry Minister  explained that they can compensate for the fact that certain demographic groups are likely to forego completing the long-form census because “statisticians can ensure validity” with a “larger sample size.” ( i.e done voluntarily).

This isn’t the case. Simply put, no matter how broad a sample size statisticians use, the fact that some groups are likely to be underrepresented will mean that the database will be faulty.

You wonder why this decision was made. (the privacy argument is quite weak- the government knows there are provisions in the legislation preventing answers from being linked to the person giving them. They also know that neither the privacy commissioner nor the committee that crossed the country studying what should be in the census heard complaints about long-form privacy concerns. Canada’s privacy watchdog has received only three complaints about the census in the last decade). Perhaps it has more to do with how this government wants to develop policy.Without detailed data it will be easier to promote and defend public policies that appeal to conclusions based on personal opinions. Politicians seldom want to let the facts get in the way of their opinions based on what their constituents tell them at their local Tim Horton’s. In other words we have government who would rather not be confused by the facts.  But is this the way to run a government?  It means the country’s course will be shaped more by assumption and emotion than by proof and reason.

As Jim Travers points out , credible information is the starting point for sound decisions. Municipal, provincial and federal planners rely on the census for that information, as do businesses, academics and ordinary folks curious about their changing world.

For example, when political parties, including the party in power, want to get elected they make a great deal of use of the census long form demographic results in tailoring their campaigns and advertising.

Let’s face many people happily divulge large amounts of information on the comments card at a chain restaurant, and provide their phone numbers; they give intimate details to dating sites. They provide tons of info on web sites and they have no idea that when they sign up for a card that gives them points or some type of membership they are giving corporations an incredible amount of personal information.

How about social media sites like Facebook? Any privacy issues there?

Without scientific information, parliamentarians fly blind when developing policies or approving legislation… I suspect they like this scenario.

REGISTER NOW

The Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing 2011

Why You Should Attend

  • Develop an action-oriented, strategic marketing plan for your organization
  • Become skilled at setting realistic, practical marketing objectives and goals
  • Learn how to communicate messages effectively to key stakeholders and the public
  • Share experiences with marketers in your sectors and expand your network

Who Should Attend

Managers working for government, crown corporations/agencies, non-profit organization and associations who are responsible for:

  • Marketing programs, products and services targeted to the public, business and government
  • Sponsorship and partnership development
  • Membership development and revenue generation
  • Exhibit and event marketing
  • Social marketing, community outreach and public education programs
  • Strategic communications, media relations and media advocacy
  • Online and web marketing, social media and digital marketing.

For information click here for link

Junk food producers funding healthy living campaigns

I have been a strong supporter of the private sector being involved with health programs for many years. Our group at Health Canada was involved in developing more than 300 public-private partnerships including ones for tobacco, alcohol and drugs, impaired driving, active living, healthy eating, diabetes prevention, healthy pregnancy, SIDS, children and seniors programs, injury prevention, West Nile virus, organ and tissue donation.  As I point out in an  article in Social Marketing Quarterly there needs to be some criteria and some common sense in engaging with the private sector, especially in the health field.

So I recently read about a partnership in Great Britain that made me wonder if the new British government have sold out to the private sector and has really hurt the credibility of private/public partnerships.

Food marketers in the U.K. are being asked to step up efforts to educate the public about healthy eating, after the new British government is cutting its $120 million Change4Life anti-obesity marketing campaign. In return the government will not impose new restrictions on food marketing.

The move is part of a wider plan for marketing cutbacks of up to 50% by the cash-strapped U.K. government, which is currently the biggest-spending advertiser in the U.K., ahead of Procter & Gamble.

Agencies are reeling from the dramatic budget cut, but marketers welcome the opportunity to take a bigger role in the debate, and are also relishing the government’s promise–in return for their help–not to increase regulation of food and drink marketing. The Conservative Party’s health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has ditched the three-year; $120 million budget set aside by his Labour predecessor and urged a “new approach to public health.”

“I will now be pressing [the commercial sector] to provide actual funding behind the campaign, and they need to do more,” he said. “If we are to reverse the trends in obesity, the commercial sector needs to change their business practices, including how they promote their brands and product reformulation.”

The Business4Life initiative brings together marketers including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Pepsi Co, Tesco, Cadbury and Unilever and claims on its website that the group will offer the equivalent of $300 million worth of expertise to encourage better diets and more exercise.

“Business is ready to play its part,” said the group’s leader, Ian Barber. “We welcome being seen as part of the solution rather than being constantly castigated as being part of the problem. We are more likely to get the right results if we have a positive role than if we are constantly having mud chucked at us.”

“We have to make Change4Life less a government campaign, more a social movement,” said Lansley. “Less paid for by government, more backed by business. Less about costly advertising, more about supporting family and individual responses.”

Marketers and media owners see Lansley’s decision as a reprieve from moves to instigate a pre-9 p.m. ban on TV advertising of food that is high in fat, salt and sugar, which would have threatened more than $400 million a year in advertising revenue, according to government regulator Ofcom. Source

The reaction has been quite critical:

In their latest attempt to stem the tide of British obesity, the national government is asking junk food producers to fund healthy living campaigns in return for a promise to not slap any taxes on fatty, sugary, salty, processed foods .And in keeping with this new style of governance, the Prime Minister will also be asking London’s crack and crystal meth dealers to fund the nation’s “Say No to Drugs” programs in return for repealing the nation’s drug laws. They may also looking into new funding arrangements with the tobacco industry, industrial polluters union #666 and NAMBLA.So, why would junk food producers want to fund successful anti-obesity / healthy living programs? Answer: they wouldn’t. But, they probably won’t mind spending a few million on ineffective programs if it means they can continue making billions selling crap food to the British public. Source

In the Daily Mail a very interesting piece by Sophie Borland and Nick McDermott

And for all those non-Brits out there, don’t think that your government wouldn’t sell you out just as quick. Major food firms will be asked to fund healthy living campaigns but controversially in return will not face a clampdown on fatty, sugary and salty meals, the health secretary said yesterday.

Manufacturers of some of Britain’s most well-known soft drinks, chocolates and snacks will be asked to pay for public advertising campaigns. And in exchange, Andrew Lansley will not pass any new laws on foods which are deemed to be unhealthy.

He told a conference for public health doctors he wanted to free food and drink firms from the ‘burden of regulation’  and would invite them to take on a greater role in public health.Mr Lansley said Government programmes cannot force people to make healthy choices, adding that individuals must take more responsibility for their choices.

‘It’s not about good food or bad food because that way, you just close companies out. It’s actually about a good diet or bad diet, good exercise or lack of exercise, it’s about people having a responsibility,’ he said.

He added it’s ‘perfectly possible to eat a bag of crisps, to eat a Mars bar, to drink a carbonated soft drink’ as long as it is in moderation.

But health campaigners immediately condemned the Government’s decision to go cap in hand to companies such as Cadbury, Mars and Coca-Cola in a bid to motivate people to follow better diets and take more exercise.

Tam Fry, board member of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘It sees them as nothing other than a bare-faced request for cash from a rich food and drink industry to bail out a cash-starved Department of Health campaign.

‘The quid pro quo is that the department gives industry an assurance that there will be no regulation or legislation over its activities. Source

Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We wait with bated breath for the fast food merchants, chocolate bar makers and fizzy drink vendors to beat a path to the public health door. ‘Meanwhile, parents and children continue to be faced with the bewildering kaleidoscope of confusing food labels and pre-watershed junk food adverts.’ Source

 

In an article Children are Obese due to Overfeeding Not Lack of Exercise Scientists found that lack of exercise is not to blame for increased levels of childhood obesity. A new report suggests that physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness, not its cause. Researchers now believe that overfeeding by parents and children eating more junk food is the root cause of weight gain. The report also said targeting nutrition rather than exercise was the best way to help obese children lose weight Source

Over at ParticipACTION the national voice of physical activity and sport participation in Canada. We find that Coca-Cola Canada has pledged $5 million to support Sogo Active , a national program that challenges Canadian youth aged 13-19 to get active and overcome the physical inactivity crisis. Source. Also check out

Here is the latest press release from Participaction and Coca Cola.

August 12, 2010   |   By Kristin Laird

Coca-Cola Canada and ParticipAction are challenging Canadian youth to get physical and motivate others with the latest phase of its Sogo Active national physical activity program.This year’s initiative includes the “Can You Fill These Shoes?” contest. Teens can register online at SogoActive.com to create their own challenges and encourage friends to join.The 90 teens with the most recruits will receive a prize and the chance to become a Sogo Active Ambassador, for which they’ll receive $5,000 to put towards their education, a $500 grant to support physical activity in their community, Adidas gear, and a Sport Chek gift card.The goal is to have teens increase their physical activity levels by joining national or local challenges or by creating their own and involving their friends, explained Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipAction.”Sogo Active is encouraging and supporting youth to inspire each other to take responsibility for their own health and find new reasons and new opportunities to be active,” she said.Since launching two years ago, nearly 13,000 youth and 1,300 host communities have joined Sogo Active. As part of the program, Coca-Cola invited 1,000 members to carry the Olympic torch earlier this year.

“The first phase was to marry together the strengths of the respective organizations, and to market physical activity to make it look cool to the teen demographic,” said Amy Laski, spokesperson, Coca-Cola Canada.”We’re not experts in physical activity, but we’ve brought our marketing expertise to help the program,” she said.Some may consider the partnership an odd match considering some Coke products are loaded with sugar. But ParticipAction’s Murumets says Coca-Cola is “an absolutely amazing partner.””They’re aware of the image they have and have been responsible in the way we’ve set up Sogo,” she said. “Whenever we have an event we always serve the healthiest Coca-Cola product… And  [The partnership] is with the company and not a particular brand.

Concerned Children’s Advertisers (CCA), whose activities include nationally televised Public Service Announcements and curricula for children in kindergarten to grade eight, as well as tips and tools for parents and community workers has a campaign  in the area of healthy living and healthy eating . Their messages include the importance of balancing food and activity and encouraging kids to “eat smart and move more. “To extend the campaign they also develop and produce comprehensive educational programs for children in kindergarten to grade eight. Long Live Kids teaches kids to “eat smart, move more and be media wise,” to create a healthy, balanced lifestyle.But when you look at their partners  you find MacDonalds, Hershey’s, Nestles and Pepsi Co,

White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity to the President. The report included recommendations in a few key areas:

  1. Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler, more actionable messages about nutritional choices based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans; improved labels on food and menus that provide clear information to help make healthy choices for children; reduced marketing of unhealthy products to children; and improved health care services, including BMI measurement for all children.
  2. Providing healthy food in schools.
  3. Improving access to healthy, affordable food, by eliminating “food deserts”.
  4. Getting children more physically active.

The report also reports that in 2006, $1,600,000,000.00 were spent on food ads aimed at youngsters. The majority of products were unhealthy. In response, the Council of Better Business Bureaus established the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative , a self-regulatory industry body. By 2009, 3 years later, no substantial changes in marketing to kids were noticed. Read: miserable failure.

InOut of Balance,” , Consumers Union and CPEHN looked at data from Advertising Age to analyze the amount of money spent on the unending barrage of food brand advertising. The groups found that food, beverage, candy and restaurant advertising hit $11.26 billion in 2004, compared to a mere $9.55 million to advertise the Five a Day campaign, which promotes eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The ad budget for the top-spending fast food restaurants alone came in at $2.3 billion, roughly 240 times greater than the communications budget for the 5 A Day campaigns combined. The advertising budget for Snickers, a single brand of candy, is nearly eight times greater than the advertising budget for the entire 5 A Day California and federal programs.

Michelle Obama’s childhood anti-obesity campaign got a big boost when a coalition of major food manufacturers, including Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Kraft Foods and Pepsi Co vowed to introduce healthier food options, and cut down calories in existing products.

Some believe that the hidden motive here is to convince government to back off and not regulate the industry,” said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. ” Source

To summarize I strongly support partnerships between government Non Profit agencies and the private sector, but there has to be limits to these partnerships and frankly a little bit of common-sense, having producers of candies, chocolate and soda pop is not an ideal partner for those involved in the Obesity battle especially when their ultimate objective is not to be regulated by government.

I would love to hear what you think.

 

Postscript June 22 2012

 

ParticipACTION partnership with Coke draws critics

Sogo Active Youth Ambassadors are shown getting active at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, June 28, 2011. (MARKETWIRE PHOTO / Coca-Cola Canada)
Sogo Active Youth Ambassadors are shown getting active at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, June 28, 2011. (MARKETWIRE PHOTO / Coca-Cola Canada)

Sogo Active Youth Ambassadors are shown getting active at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

One of Canada’s most famous fitness enthusiasts is speaking out against a partnership between ParticipACTION—the national non-profit organization that promotes healthy living and physical activity—and Coca-Cola.

The two partnered to create SOGO Active, a national physical activity program designed for youth.The campaign asks young Canadians to pledge to complete a challenge involving physical activity online, and complete the challenge.

Hal Johnson, longtime host of ParticipACTION’s Body Break public service announcements, criticized the partnership in a tweet on Friday.Reports indicate the deal between ParticipACTION and the world’s most popular soft drink manufacturer is worth $5 million over five years.

“I am disappointed that ParticipACTION has partnered with Coke, it doesn’t fit no matter how much money they are getting,” read the tweet.And Johnson is not the only person critical of the pairing. Ottawa University professor and obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff sounded off on the partnership on his blog, Weighty Matters.

Freedhoff slammed the way Coca-Cola was described by ParticipACTION President Kelly Murumet.In the past, Murumet has called Coca-Cola “a responsible, effective partner.”

In the end, the partnership between the two will not improve the health of Canada’s youth, wrote Freedhoff.

Health Canada estimates that in the last 25 years, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled. Studies have shown a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity.

To help children maintain a healthy body weight, the Canada Food Guide recommends limiting the amount of sweetened drinks consumed by children.

Read more: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20120622/participaction-partnership-with-coke-draws-critics-120622/#commentSection#ixzz1yYZPcCj5