Hello Wall Street? This is Hollywood, we have a problem…
Two short videos popped up on my social media radar recently. First: a beautiful talk by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh at Google HQ in Silicon Valley on the topic of mindfulness and mindful eating. Kudos to Google for sending the message of mindfulness internally, I thought. When will Google start spreading the word externally on its landing page? I wonder.
Second: the trailer for a documentary released on May 9th: Fed Up. The documentary says it all about the global obesity epidemic, and goes to war against sugar. As L.A. Weekly puts it; Fed Up is poised to be the Inconvenient Truth of the health movement”. I rushed to a theater near me, held my breath, felt sick and cried. Torn between feelings of optimism (thank you Google) and disgust (thank you sodas), I started to ask myself a few simple questions: What’s all that noise about sugar? How do economics and politics play together? What is the role of media, entertainment and creative industries today and tomorrow? Is advertising really dead?
Fed Up is a catchy title indeed. On the movie poster two big letters: F in red, U in blue… F.U.! “Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. Fed Up is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see. From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of An inconvenient truth) and director Stephanie Soechtig, Fed Up will change the way you eat forever.”
Here goes the download: 30% of the American population is suffering from obesity, but if you take into account the TOFI population (Thin Outside Fat Inside), it is 51% of the American population – not 30% - who is suffering from diet-related diseases. For the last 30 years we have been dancing to the drums of balancing calories in and calories out; hence the rise of the multi billion-dollar fitness industry. The trouble is, not all calories are born equal: almonds will keep you slim, junk food and soda drinks will make you fat. Moreover, refined sugars are as addictive as cocaine and even heroine. What a magic recipe!
A recent New York Times blog entry sums it all up in details for you to read if you want to know more. Fed Up triggered substantial media interest, receiving an impressive 1.6 billion U.S. media impressions between May 1rst and May 9th alone. The food industry reacted promptly and published its own polished analysis of the documentary on the industry association’s website Food Insight.
Fed Up’s point: “Sodas are the cigarettes of the 21st century, no less”.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m in. I have been on and off the running tracks and in and out of the swimming pools. I’ve eaten both junk and healthy foods. I can relate to Fed Up’s point and need no more convincing.
We love you Michelle Obama
Politicians seem to have played a big role in the story of sugar. President Clinton, interviewed in Fed Up, is quite upfront: “we did not realize how big of a problem we had before us”. The documentary relates that in 2002 the World Health Organization published a report (TR 916) recommending that sugar should account for no more than 10% of daily calorie intakes. After Secretary of Health Tommy Thomson took a trip to Geneva with a $406 million contribution check in his pocket, W.H.O.’s recommendation was raised from 10% to 25%. Fed Up rests its case.
What else? Well, let’s quickly paint an even bigger picture here. Pizzas and French fries are still counted as vegetables in American schools (Who is lobbying?). The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008. Fed Up makes a point that American healthcare costs linked to chronic diseases make up for 75% of total healthcare costs. Interestingly, health insurance companies are reported to be investing massively in fast-food companies…
Last fall I had the opportunity to listen to McGill University professor Nancy Adler who gave a keynote at the International Leadership Association Conference in Montreal. Here is the story Nancy had in store for us, as she was coming back from a Big Pharma conference:
Nancy Adler: “Where do you see the future of Big Pharma?” Big Pharma executives: “China!” Nancy: “Why China?” Big Pharma executives: “Well, because Chinese people are starting to eat like us, so chronic diseases are on the rise, very big potential for growth…” Nancy: “Hmmm…” Big Pharma executives: “Hmmm what?” Nancy Adler: “Hmmm… Have you ever considered turning your businesses around and making as much money as before if not more by making people healthy rather than making money by treating chronic diseases?” Big Pharma executives: “Hmmm…” Nancy: “Hmm what? Big Pharma executives: “Hmmm… No, we did not…” So many industries are making a profit out of sick people.
Thank you, Nancy. I rest my case.
Then comes Michelle Obama who decides to take the bull by the horns and tackle the obesity epidemic head on. The First Lady launched her Let’s Move initiative with resolve. Fed Up makes an interesting point that in the end of the film, Let’s Move was high-jacked by the Food Industry who – by agreeing to put lower calorie processed foods on the shelves – managed to steer public scrutiny away from the problem of processed foods and sugar and got parents focused on getting the kids more active.
The problem is we cannot sweat our way out of the obesity problem: “it will take a 110-pound child 75 minutes of bike riding to burn off the calories in one 20-ounce bottle of soda”, and “junk is still junk even if it is less junk”. In the end, Let’s Move achieved so little in the grand scheme of things that it can be considered a failure. Michelle Obama – a passionate advocate of youth health – was invited to contribute to Fed Up. She declined.
Here goes the punch line: Michelle Obama’s failure to make a significant difference in the fight against the obesity epidemic might in fact be her greatest legacy. The lesson learnt is: if the First Lady cannot pull it off against Big Food, well then it simply means that either more muscle or more innovative and systemic approaches are needed. Fed Up is adding its voice. Up to us to rally the cause.
Hello Wall Street? This is Hollywood, we have a problem...
For many years Hollywood has nicely played the role of Corporate America’s P.R. Department. Granted, hearts needed to be lifted during the great depression, no harm there. Following W.W.2, American entertainment did a very good job at keeping the American Dream alive.
But Hollywood seems to be going through an identity crisis and is starting to rebel: “Hello Wall Street? This is Hollywood, we have a problem… the dream you’ve asked us to put on films is not such a nice dream after all, and now we want to spill the beans so to speak. Also, you know what? If you cut the financing it’s ok, we’ll go on Kickstarter and we’ll broadcast on the web…”
One of the most famous “the way we are working is not working” type of films is James Cameron’s Avatar. A loud and clear “green is good” message is delivered with beautiful, powerful and poetic imagery; a celebration of ancestral cultures and values with condors and eagles flying together before our enchanted eyes. Ironically, Avatar is also the all time box office world record holder, with sales of $ 2.8 billion. Good messages can be good business too.
Avatar was not enough. James Cameron, who will be in Montreal next week for C2MTL, is not one to rest on his laurels it seems. He wants to see results and he is back tackling global warming. The biggest problem of our time he says, not a problem just for the polar bears, a problem for 100% of us.
So James Cameron did what he does best, and produced one of the most breathtaking TV documentary series of all times Years of Living Dangerously. In each episode, Hollywood stars travel around the world to witness and investigate the horrific damages of global warming.
Deforestation in Indonesia is directly responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. Watch for yourself as Harrison Ford challenges the Minister of Forestry of Indonesia: “What did YOU do?” shouts Indiana Jones pointing his finger at the politician. Episode 1 is available on the web, a must see. (PS: deforestation in Indonesia is fueled by the increasing demand for palm oil, a key ingredient in processed food, back to square one…).
What about the rise of inequality? A filmmaker’s answer is quick to come Inequality For All, a documentary featuring Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. I’ll let you discover it on your own.
The obesity epidemic, global warming, rise of inequality… Filmmakers seem to be pulling out all the stops. Furthermore, with transmedia tools, audiences can now move quickly into action mode. I changed my Facebook page photo to the Fed Up logo, invited all my friends to like the Fed Up page, and subscribed to the ten days sugar free challenge, with tips and words of support emailed to me on a daily basis. Good job filmmakers! Good job Dominique!
While media is doing a great job at delivering a loud shout – a much-needed wake up call – I somehow feel this is just the tip of the iceberg. In order to propel lasting change people need to be taken beyond experiencing the fear and atrocities of what is happening on this planet. People need to believe that there is a way forward and a possibility of a brighter future. People also need to know what immediate steps to take towards that future.
Media and documentaries can lead the way forward by illuminating jewels of innovation and inspiration in all walks of life. So, over the last few days, I started to open a few new files on my computer. They are tagged as follows: “Years of living consciously”, “Fix It Up”, “The Equalizers” and “The Uptimists”. I cannot pull it all off on my own. The more the merrier. Reach out and give me a call if you are up for the challenge!
A good example of a forward looking film is Milton’s Secret, an upcoming Canadian production to be directed by Barnet Bain, based on the book by spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle. The film will touch on conscious parenting, bullying (a dramatic issue worldwide) and stress in the family. Rather than opting for a documentary format showcasing the disastrous consequences of bullying and stress in life in general, the filmmaker chooses to tell a fictional story, in which conscious living will be shown as a way to help us thrive in a frantic world. Coming soon to a theater near you.
Wrap up: creative industries in general, and film in particular, are going to play a more important role than ever in shaping our world ahead. There is no grey zone, the message is either 1- keep the dream alive and maintain the status quo or 2 – open up and show new positive ways forward. Be deliberate. Choose wisely.
Advertising is dead, long live advertising
Back to Fed Up. Point 1: kids watch an average of 4000 food-related ads every year (10/day). Point 2: 98% of food related ads that children view (3920/year) are for products high in fat, sugar, sodium. Fingers seem to be pointing a lot at marketers lately, rightfully so. Although Montreal’s marketer Mitch Joel put it differently in a recent blog post: “advertising is just the messenger. And you know what they say about shooting the messenger”. I say: “marketers, please, take responsibility for the message”.
To tackle the issue of advertising, how about producing a documentary on… say… the future of advertising? Well, New York marketer Jeff Rosemblum did just that. The finished product is a brilliant piece The Naked Brand. If you read Mitch Joel’s post in full, you’ll get his view on the topic.
The Naked Brand is filled with inspiring examples. One story is how Nike made its come back after being flagged as a sweatshop operator, and became one of the most reliable and trusted brands in the process. Another story is how Unilever made a commitment to reduce its footprint by reducing the size of detergent packaging. Not mentioned in the Naked Brand, but a nice story to share is how Unilever's Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign, a tribute to women's natural beauty with 63M views on Youtube, ranked top commercial in 2013.
What is the future for advertising? Rather than being part of the problem, says Jeff Rosemblum, what if advertising became part of the solution? What if advertising became instrumental to the making of great products, great services, great corporations? What if advertising became the conduit through which consumers could speak to corporations and become a source of innovation, rather than the conduit through which corporations indoctrinate consumers? It is not about creative storytelling anymore. It is about innovative + inspiring story making.
Now that I am all fired up by Fed Up, Years of Living Dangerously, Inequality For All and The Naked Brand, I wonder: What exactly are we celebrating at C2MTL, with trailblazing creative and business minds gathering from around the world to reinvent the future?
Photos: Movie poster + mnn.com