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No more super sizing in NYC.

No more super sizing in NYC.

Cheers. I would like to drink a toast to your health (with the beverage of your choice), as well as to the land where you are still free to make that choice (sort of).  There is a free enterprise battle being fought, and it is the subject of late night talk show jokes, but it could not be more serious. It is slow. It is insidious. And it is under the auspices of best intentions, but it is really about power and control.

I am referring to the current and pending over-regulation of food and drink by local, state, and federal government officials who say they are interested in controlling obesity and reducing healthcare costs. That sounds like something we should all be willing and glad to get behind. However, all of us individually can do that now for ourselves, and once government starts telling businesses how to run their business, things never end well.

The fast-food industry has been under considerable pressure for years to add healthier choices to their menus. Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” documentary vividly demonstrated the dangers of a recurring fast-food diet. Often when restaurateurs do introduce more nutritious fare, these items wither away from lack of sales — the market speaks in each case. Today, if you want to eat healthy, there ARE lots of options. Mobile phone apps like EAT THIS, NOT THAT are available to steer you away from calorie bombs and into best alternatives at individual national chains.  But if you want to pig out on an occasional basis, you still can (or should be allowed).

The recent decision by the Bloomberg administration in NYC to ban supersized soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces is regrettable. One segment was targeted (for now). Notice the mayor wisely decided not to try to limit over 16 ounce beer sales. He has admitted that he just wanted to make a point and get people to think.

This video produced by tries to make that same point and is disgustingly over the top and again at war with a single segment (the soft drink companies, plus unintentionally, all the small food businesses they help support). It ends with a push toward healthier drinks like water or milk.

So Bloomberg’s office has arbitrarily set 16 ounces as a limit. But concentration and perspective matters.  Even water, if you drink enough of it, can kill you by flushing vital minerals and nutrients from your system. So no more Deer Park cooler bottles. SOMEONE out there could harm himself.

Next up, kid cereals. This week’s Ad Age covers the increasing pressures that cereal makers find themselves under and how the industry’s ad spending is even being closely tracked (now, we are into regulation of free speech, admittedly commercial, but closely regulated). If there are two things government nanny-staters hate, it’s sugar and carbon (or maybe they secretly love them, because they open worlds of regulatory possibilities).

The government has a similar love-hate relationship with tobacco. It loves to vilify the cigarette companies for causing cancer, but would never think of banning this product, because it is so badly addicted to the tax revenue it receives from the sale of each pack and carton.

If the government would limit itself to educating the public about various health risks and requiring food and drink companies to label products clearly so consumers understand immediate and potential long-term risks and benefits, we would all be better off. Unfortunately, when industry fails to lead, the government will swoop into the resulting vacuum. Then, all bets are off. Once again, here’s to our collective health. And to a healthier business climate and national economy.

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Advertising is all about beautiful people (aka supermodels), looking beautiful, acting beautiful, and being beautiful while using the sponsor’s product. While this type of advertising is easy on the eyes, there is so much, it can become like wallpaper, blending into the background, barely attracting attention. This week, a new presidential campaign tv ad launched that so jarringly broke the beauty mold that it was all that every media pundit has focused on ever since. I’m talking about Herman Cain’s Smoking Man spot.

The Smoking Man (not to be confused with that mysterious X Files figure) is actually Cain’s Chief of Staff, Mark Block, who while delivering a weirdly cadenced but believably impassioned endorsement of his boss, proceeds to literally blow smoke, because he is enjoying a cigarette outside.

What is going on here? How can a man responsible for helping his boss project a positive, electable image allow himself to be videotaped matter-of-factly puffing on a cigarette. Commentators across the political spectrum, almost in unison, wondered aloud why he would set such a bad example for young people. Hint: it wasn’t by accident!

It is hard to stun people in 2011, but amazingly, this ad has managed to move the meter off the chart. The question is why? Cigarettes are a legal product. They appear often in popular entertainment (films, tv shows, and music videos). Our current president has been known to sneak outside the White House to light up. So, why is this ad so surprising?

It’s been a ridiculously long time since anyone in a tv ad smoked (except for an anti-smoking PSA). And cigarettes while legal are perhaps the most heavily regulated products on the market (with even more regulations proposed). And now, we’re getting to the crux of this message — the current regulatory and capriciously restrictive environment of the United States. At a time when people on the right, left, and in the center are fed up with feelings of powerlessness, it is strangely liberating to see a man in a tv ad smoking a cigarette. It is un-PC. It is unhealthy. It is unnervingly appealing in a defy the nanny-state way.

Already the spot’s YouTube page has attracted nearly one million visitors. Less than 10,000 have weighed in to “like” or “dislike”, but the dislikes are running well ahead, not exactly a scientific poll, but a trend nonetheless.

It is too early to tell whether this is a spark for the Cain campaign or just a weird reminder that America is still free even if the Marlboro Man isn’t allowed to ride the broadcast range anymore.

Update: Election year news cycles are notoriously short. It’s exactly one week later and Mr. Cain is dealing with fire instead of smoke this week. So far, the sexual harassment allegations are sketchy, but the candidate’s handling of the media questioning has been spotty at best. Consistency and accuracy of story is critical when it comes to crisis PR.  If you believe the old adage that this is no BAD PR, Mr. Cain has had two news-dominating weeks.

When is the last time you saw a man smoke a cigarette in a TV spot?

When is the last time you saw a man smoke a cigarette in a TV spot?

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