Apples Could Be Harmful As Well!!! A PR Stunt, Well-Played!

Since childhood I have believed in the age-old adage – An Apple a Day, Keeps The Doctor Away. Though an apple a day didn’t really keep the doctor away I kept following the ritual religiously. Only until I came across a PR case study Alar and PR; 60 Minutes, and the national media.” As someone who takes immense interest in PR strategies, it was startling to come across one that made Americans believe that ”apples’ are indeed harmful for their children and the one that followed to counterattack the first strategy and made eating apples – healthy, wealthy and wise, again. Phew!

The story goes back to 1989 when in the month of February, CBS, the American Television Program Producer, in its show 60 minutes had broadcast a segment highlighting the harmful effects of apples and how they can even cause cancer, particularly to small children. They had based their coverage on a study from NRDC, a New York-based non-profit enviornmental advocacy group that focussed on the intolerable risk of pesticides (read Alar here) in children’s food. The result, in no time apples were deemed everything but healthy.

At that point, the PR industry giant Hill & Knowlton (H&K) came to the rescue of vulnerable apple manufacturers, who were bearing the brunt of wrong media publicity, which experts say was carefully planned by David Fenton of Fenton Communications. H&K had to crack the tough nut of nullifying the NRDC’s report and making Americans believe that apples are actually healthy. Who knew a PR giant would be required to make people believe in something that they have learned at kindergarten decades ago. But I guess, that’s where an intelligent PR strategy comes into play.

Both the PR firms had laid their cards well – while David Fenton drove the final nail in apple’s coffin by bringing on board the American actress Meryl Streep to advocate the harmful effects of pesticides (Alar), H&K focussed on separating apples from Alar and bringing in the key influencers (yes, influencer was a word back then as well) such as government agencies, scientific institutions, apple growers, schools and news media to speak about the well-known nutritional benefits of apples.

Such PR case studies intrigue me about the world of PR that can make or break a brand in a jiffy.

To get into the technicalities of these two PR strategies you can click on this link, which is an excerpt from the book Public Relations Practices

P.S. I haven’t given up on apples yet.