PepsiCo maneuvered marketing genius this week by convincing the Indian Medical Association to endorse the health benefits of Tropicana fruit juice and Quaker Oats for three years.
Now, when Indians reach for these products, they’ll see a stamp of approval from the IMA. In turn, Pepsi will sponsor IMA events and forums. This so-called noncommercial deal is the first of its kind globally.
The Indian Medical Association, an organization with 175,000 members, is India’s equivalent to the American Medical Association. It has received harsh criticism for the deal. The Times of India ran opposing viewpoints Thursday on the endorsement.
"The IMA cannot be seen to be favouring any one corporation over its rivals when it comes to benefits that flow from a healthy diet," the opposing editorial states.
In the IMA’s defense, a columnist wrote, "Brand promotions of healthy products of a corporation like PepsiCO — that’s more of a cola company — will help it diversify its operations in holistic areas that enhance, rather than compromise, public health."
Did Pepsi ghostwrite that?
Ten years ago, the American Medical Association had to backtrack on an agreement to endorse Sunbeam medical supplies after its members responded with fury. The AMA’s violation of an unwritten 40-year-old rule against product endorsements caused four top officials to resign.
Among the many vocal members against the endorsement was Dr. Arnold
Relman, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. "In my
opinion, it is essential that this association purge itself of all
commercial deals that involve endorsement of or joint marketing
ventures with particular health-related products and services sold to
the public," he said.
"The recent trend toward the commercialization of
the US health care system and the growing threat of corporatized
managed care to the autonomy of doctors," he continued, "have made it increasingly
difficult for physicians to follow this fundamental precept that their
financial interests should not influence their professional obligations
The Indian Medical Association may be struggling for funding, but endorsing Pepsi products creates and obvious conflict of interest. India has a rapidly growing obesity problem,
and rates of diabetes are sharply increasing. Juice has lots of sugar
and isn’t always a healthy option, but certainly soda and potato chips aren’t. (Pepsi owns Frito-Lay, whose chips can be found on
shelves in even the remotest Indian villages).
Being reliant on Pepsi for funding undoubtedly will make the IMA
hesitate before making declarations against the
consumption of soda or potato chips, or any other public health statement that could hurt Pepsi’s bottom line.
Pharma figured out that trick long