Big time sports and entertainment events draw big time advertising dollars. We all are more than familiar with the amount of sponsorship spent on Super Bowl ads this past week, and the payoff in exposure brands got with the largest TV audience of all-time for the Colts and the Saints on Sunday. One of the biggest categories that support those events is snack foods. People loved watching those Doritos commercials on Sunday, and loved chowing down on bowls of the stuff as they were watching the game. The tailgate, the junk food, are all very much a rite of passage surrounding the great American sporting event.
So it came as an interesting, and very worthwhile, mix Tuesday when retired NFL star and broadcaster Tiki Barber joined First Lady Michelle Obama, and groups of influential doctors and children from key locations across the nation to announce the launch of "Let's Move," the White House's most ambitious initiative to combat and hopefully eradicate, the plague of obesity effecting children in the United States today.
The obesity challenge has become a very popular one with athletes especially in the past year. NBA stars like Jerry Stackhouse, who saw firsthand with members of his family how a sedentary life and poor eating habits can bring on obesity and disease like diabetes, and the Celtics Paul Pierce (who last week launched his own campaign to fight obesity and promote fitness in New England with the brand Switch2Health), have taken up the cause as their primary community calling. The Yankees Curtis Granderson also pledged his support, and the NFL has made the issue of obesity a strong platform as well through their Play60 campaign.
All the efforts are focused not just on snack foods of course. They all include exercise and education in healthy eating choices; two areas where today's video game infused, instant gratification lifestyles fall way short in implementation and explanation. The initiative, which will focus as much if not more on grassroots education than on celebrity, could well be one of the key pieces of the Obama legacy, not just for this generation but for generations to come.
"Let's Move" will have its hands full (no pun intended) in getting traction amongst youth who are constantly barraged with feel good, sweet tasting and appealing messages from brands. Eating healthy may be better for you, but it is still not as cool, nor does it look as slick, as the marketing machines behind the snack foods that line our shelves, or the video games that fill our closets and rec rooms.
Parents are times challenged and will often find it hard to make sure the healthy meal is available and their kids are up and about, especially in inner cities, where the options for healthy choices and lifestyles may not be as plentiful as in the suburbs. That's where leaders like Barber and Pierce can make the most impact. Barber is a product of public housing, and learned real life lessons on the playground while his mom was at work. It was those life lessons... teamwork, dealing with and resolving conflict, expressing oneself through creativity and athletics... that spurred him to mentor young people through program's like Harlem's Urban Village Academy and his own "Play Proud" program, which is refurbishing and building playgrounds as a haven for young people in inner cities throughout the Northeast. Pierce's programs will do the same for young people in New England, rewarding kids and young adults for time spent doing physical activities. They are just a few examples, but critical ones, of how athletes can make "Lets Move" get movin. At the end of the day, these key motivated athletes, along with celebrities, will have the platform to motivate and inspire the right mass of young people, which in turn will hopefully trickle down to their peers and parents. As other generations wanted to "Be Like Mike," and follow Nike's mantra to follow Michael Jordan, this new group of inspirational athletes can motivate young people to an even healthier and longer lasting cause.
Still it will be interesting to see if brands glean on to the government supported cause as well. The long battle against big tobacco, once a sports stalwart, eventually forced changes in messaging and created programs paid for by the companies to assist those affected by cigarette smoking. Alcohol, especially beer, yet another category long on sponsorship activation, goes to great lengths to promote awareness and responsible drinking campaigns directed at young people. So will snack foods do the same? Some promote healthy choices and responsibility to young people already, but the majority of ads still push the high sugar, high fat content drinks and snacks that most still enjoy when watching the big sports events. And although this should no way be a crusade against snack food brands, it is much more about healthy choices, exercise and education for both parents and children, the dollars and time that can be devoted to education on childhood obesity and ways to fight it, would be a welcome addition to the efforts spelled out by the First Lady and her team Tuesday.
Will the announcement and the efforts help shape a legacy, as was announced? Tough to say given all the issues the Obama Administration needs to take on these days. But at least by starting the process and bringing in key influencers in health and celebrity, maybe their full plate will at least have a healthy alternative.