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Are you getting enough sugar to keep your weight down?

21 Sep

That’s what Sugar Information, Inc. wanted to know in 1959. Sugar Information, Inc. was a predecessor to today’s Sugar Association, Inc., a trade association whose mission is to promote the consumption of sugar.

(The Sugar Molecule, Fall-Winter 1959-60 Vol. XI No.1)

There is oh-so-much to say about this advertisement (sugar as energy for women’s bowling teams)?! But what I really want to talk about is trade association advertising.

Today, two big trade associations are going head to head over the renaming of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. The Corn Refiners Association has already taken to calling HFCS, ‘corn sugar’ on their websites, even though the FDA hasn’t given its approval to the new moniker. And I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘corn sugar’ ads on tv (or at the very least, the Saturday Night Live spoof).

The Sugar Association and its members claim that using the term ‘corn sugar’ to refer to high fructose corn syrup in advertisements is deceptive and in violation of state and federal law.

In defense of corn sugar, Dan Webb “argued that the Corn Refiners Association is an industry group that does not directly sell any products, therefore it cannot be sued for false advertising.”

Really? Trade Associations can’t be sued for false advertising? All we have to do is look to past practices of The Sugar Association (one of the plaintiffs!)  for a quick lesson. In the ad above, Sugar Information Inc. wasn’t advertising a product, per se, but was promoting overall sugar consumption. And while this particular ad didn’t spark a Federal Trade Commission investigation, subsequent ads in the early seventies did. This one’s my favorite: Diet Hint: Have a Soft Drink Before Your Main Meal  Sugar Information Inc. lost, and was required to cease and desist AND print corrective ads.

Speaking of the FTC – why didn’t the Sugar Association and its members work through the FTC to file their complaint, rather than filing it  through the California courts? Perhaps this is more public relations, targeted at the court of public opinion?