Sunday, February 10, 2008

Genius


Hat tip: Matthew "Catamount" Georgi

2 comments:

Beth said...

From Bruce Hetrick's "Notions" column in the Indianapolis Business Journal, Vol. 27, No. 31 Oct. 9, 2006, in response to the spinach recall during that time:

Why all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray - 10.9.06

By Bruce Hetrick

Let's suppose there's a leafy agricultural product grown right here in America. And let's suppose lots of people think this product tastes great. Heck, in a nation obsessed with fashion-model thinness, some folks even say it helps them keep their weight down.

And let's suppose that, through accident or design, some creative soul conjures up a macho TV spokesperson - a tough-guy caricature who convinces children, even from the earliest days of childhood, that consuming this leafy product will make you tough and cool. There's macho-guy theme music, and macho-guy logo merchandise and other macho-guy brand-building tie-ins to make this stuff look irresistible.

And thus, this leafy product comes to be sold in shops and bistros across the land. And to sell even more, those who grow and distribute the stuff come up with lots of variations so consumers can have it just the way they like it. They can buy it in bags. They can buy it in cans. They can buy it dressed to their personal taste with their favorite supplemental ingredients.

But then, something terrible happens.

One hundred ninety-two people in 26 states and parts of Canada get sick from the leafy product. One person dies. Two other deaths are under investigation.

Immediately, government health officials swoop in to save lives. Warnings are issued, recalls announced, consumer-education teams dispatched far and wide.

Almost instantly, knowing that the leafy stuff may cause serious illness or even death, retailers and restaurateurs heed government warnings, forgo the profits they make from the stuff, and yank it from their shelves and menus.

No one accuses government officials of heavy-handedness. No one calls for public hearings. No one fights for the right to sell or consume the leafy substance. No one says his or her business will be killed if customers can't put themselves and their loved ones at risk by buying the now-lethal leaves.

Government simply says, "This stuff is dangerous. It's made 192 people sick. It's killed one. Stop selling it." And suddenly, you can't buy the leafy substance anywhere.

Now, let's suppose there's another leafy agricultural product grown right here in America. And let's suppose lots of people think this product tastes great. Heck, in a nation obsessed with fashion-model thinness, some folks even say it helps them keep their weight down.

And let's suppose that through accident or design, some creative soul conjures up a macho TV spokesperson - a tough-guy caricature who convinces children, even from the earliest days of childhood, that consuming this leafy product will make you tough and cool. There's macho-guy theme music, and macho-guy logo merchandise and other macho-guy brand-building tie-ins to make this stuff look irresistible.

And thus, this leafy product comes to be sold in shops and bistros across the land. And to sell even more, those who grow and distribute the stuff come up with lots of variations so consumers can have it just the way they like it. They can buy it in bags. They can buy it in cans. They can buy it dressed to their personal taste with their favorite supplemental ingredients.

But then, something terrible happens.

The U.S. surgeon general reports that 440,000 Americans die prematurely from illnesses related to the leafy product each year. And for every person who dies, 20 more are living with at least one serious illness related to those same leaves.

Immediately, government health officials swoop in to save lives. They issue warnings. They dispatch consumer-education teams far and wide.

Despite knowing that the leafy stuff may cause serious illness or even death, retailers and restaurateurs oppose government warnings, insist on retaining the profits they earn from the stuff, and continue to display it prominently on their shelves and menus.

All the while, they accuse government officials of heavy-handedness. Demand public hearings. Fight for their right to sell the leafy substance and even shove it down their employees' throats. And they insist that their businesses will be killed if customers can't put themselves and their loved ones at risk by buying and consuming the proven-lethal leaves.

Government says, "This stuff is dangerous. It kills 440,000 people a year. It's made 20 times that many sick." And by God, you can buy the leafy substance everywhere.

Bottom line: If you're the spinach industry, happily touting your stuff with Popeye the Sailor Man as your spokesman, and through the errors of one processing operation, you spark a few hundred cases of E. coli bacteria, you're in deep doo-doo.

But if you're the tobacco industry, happily touting your stuff with Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man as your spokesmen, and through intentional boosting of addictive nicotine, you spark millions of cases of heart diseases, lung cancer, and a host of other cancers and diseases, well, that's OK.

Erik Deckers said...

I was the Risk Communication Director at the Indiana State Department of Health, and worked heavily on the spinach/E. Coli issue. I also worked on the Healthy Indiana Plan that increased taxes on cigarettes.

No one ever complained about not being able to buy spinach. Lots of people complained about increased taxes on their smokes.

What kind of priorities do we have as a society when we complain that killing yourself becomes more expensive, but taking care of yourself becomes more difficult doesn't raise an eyebrow?