High Fructose Corn Syrup's Latest PR Target: Mommy Bloggers

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 10:54 PM EDT

The trade group that represents makers of high fructose corn syrup -- or should I say the substance formerly known as high fructose corn syrup -- has opened up a new front in the battle to turn public opinion in their favor. They're wooing mommy bloggers.

It comes on the heels of an effort to boost the sagging fortunes of the downtrodden sweetener by changing its name to the simpler, healthier-sounding "corn sugar." Last month, the Corn Refiners Association, which represents HFCS makers like ADM (ADM) and Cargill, petitioned the FDA for permission for the name change. The agency has yet to respond, which is why I'll continue to call it high fructose corn syrup.

In the meantime, the CRA is infiltrating the bustling and chatty mom blogosphere. Two weeks ago, the association hosted a virtual blog tour, where they chatted with several dozen mommy bloggers, featured presentations from "experts" and challenged everyone to do a "pantry hunt" -- look in their cabinets for products that contain other forms of sugar. Everyone who participated got a $50 Wal-Mart (WMT) gift card.

And then the drama began. As is the case with anything involving HFCS these days, there was a torrent of controversy. Karen at Notes From the Cookie Jar, who didn't participate in the blog tour, decried it as one big giant sellout, all for a measly gift certificate:
Mom bloggers are used as pawns. Gather a few together, throw some gift certificates their way, give them a pile of scientific mumbo jumbo from experts, and send them off to write.
Liz at Mom-101, also a non-participant, went philosophical, generating 178 comments:
This whole thing is raising all sorts of questions for me about blogger-brand relationships, once again....I feel like this kind of lobbyist-created advocacy changes everything.
Many of the bloggers who tuned in to listen to Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners, did just as she'd hoped -- they jumped on their computers and wrote about how HFCS isn't causing the decline of Western civilization. The tour was hosted by MomCentral, a site that looks like a mommy blog but is really a consulting company for brands trying to reach moms. In a typical post, the Experimental Mommy wrote:
I am learning that high fructose corn syrup is no more likely to cause weight gain than sugar when used in moderation...According to the Corn Refiners Association, high fructose corn syrup (corn sugar) is a natural substance made up of the same components of regular granulated sugar.
Erickson is smart to try and address the negative perceptions of HFCS through what my BNET colleague Jim Edwards calls the "mommy-blog-industrial-complex." Moms still do way more of the shopping than dads and are much more likely tuned be tuned into messages about nutrition.

But it's hard to see how bloggers regurgitating your talking points is going to help change anyone's mind about whether HFCS is or isn't a highly processed toxic ingredient or whether it does or doesn't cause obesity, diabetes and liver disease. It would be one thing if moms sat down, did a little independent research and came up with a thoughtful reevaluation of the issue.

That doesn't appear to have happened, which is why some bloggers were so upset that other moms sold their soul for such a small price.

Image from mom-101.com
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