Friday, September 13, 2013

In Watertown, First Lady Michelle Obama Makes A Splash With 'Drink Up' Campaign Launch

With support from celebrities and social media--and criticism in the press--First Lady debuts massive new campaign promoting water... 
Watertown, WI - Joined by actress Eva Longoria for a "water festival" celebrating the launch of her Drink Up campaign to encourage Americans to imbibe just one more glass of water each day, First Lady Michelle Obama took a jab at junk food marketing before toasting "the original energy drink."  (Above, with Longoria in Watertown) 

"Amidst all the ads that we watch on television and all the messages that we receive every day about what to eat and drink," Mrs. Obama declared, "water just gets drowned out."

In the balloon-bedecked gym at Watertown High School, surrounded by hundreds of students, most clutching both smartphones to film their famous guests and water bottles with the Drink Up logo, Mrs. Obama, clad in thematic blue, explained the decision to throw her considerable influence behind a product that she admitted is everywhere and "free."

"We needed to make sure that water is boosted by the same kind of passion and creativity, and innovative messaging that so many other products enjoy," Mrs. Obama said.

"Drink just one more glass of water a day and you can make a real difference for your health, for your energy, and the way that you feel."  

Mrs. Obama's aides say her campaign will create one billion "media impressions" promoting water, and she was flooding the nation's infoscape by the time she took the stage in mid-afternoon.  She'd appeared by video on half a dozen morning TV shows, and the social media universe was awash with the campaign's hashtag, #DrinkH20.  (Above, Mrs. Obama, Longoria, and the Watertown High Principal on stage)

The First Lady declared that "there’s plenty of scientific evidence" to back up the benefits of hydration, from reducing fatigue and headaches to improving "focus" in school, in the office, and to "excel on the playing field."

"We simply want everyone to know that we are what we drink, and when we drink water, we certainly drink up," Mrs. Obama said, using the campaign's slogan.

But her efforts to improve the health of Americans are routinely beset with criticism, and the press by midday was busy quoting experts to debunk Mrs. Obama's watery claims.

"There really isn’t data to support" the idea that increased water consumption improves health, Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a kidney specialist from the University of Pennsylvania told Politico.  "...they’re not basing this on really hard science...To make it a major public health effort, I think I would say it’s bizarre."

The gigantic multiplatform campaign, created by a team led by New York ad firm Young & Rubicam (the folks responsible for GAP, Dell and Virgin Atlantic campaigns) is fairly low on hard science; it does not even flag federal recommendations for what is the "ideal" amount of water to drink each day.

Instead, it is designed to be an emotional,"feel good" lifestyle branding, Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass said in an interview on Wednesday, describing Drink Up as "a positive, forward-leaning visionary campaign to inspire people to drink more water."  The brainchild of Kass, the campaign has been in development for two years.  (Above, Kass at the launch)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its website points to a recommended water intake for women of 91 ounces daily, and for men, 125 ounces daily, with more needed during strenuous physical activity, especially in hot weather.  

But Kass and the East Wing instead explained the need for Drink Up by noting CDC statistics that "more than 40% of Americans drink less half of the recommend amount of water daily, including 7% who don’t drink any water," and adding that a quarter of children under age 19 drink no water at all.

Mrs. Obama also got criticism on the environmental front, with The Associated Press noting that "environmental advocates say they’re disappointed the campaign ignores concerns about plastic bottles ending up in waterways and reductions in federal funding for public water systems."

Tap water is as much on Mrs. Obama's aqua menu as bottled water; the Drink Up logo will be appearing on 10,000 public water fountains and taps, according to Lawrence Soler, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! support foundation that is orchestrating the campaign.  

"All over this country, you can turn on the faucet and get clean, safe, healthy water that tastes great," Mrs. Obama told the Watertown crowd.  A giant paper water faucet was among the hand-made decorations on the gym's wall. 

Still, because everything Mrs. Obama does for the Let's Move! campaign is on a supersized scale, the Drink Up logo will also be appearing "on half a billion water bottles, including hundreds of thousands of packages of reusable water bottles," she said. 

Her coalition includes more than a dozen bottled water brands--Nestlé Waters brands, Evian, Voss, Hint, and WAT-AAH!, filter makers, the American Beverage Association, and the International Bottled Water Association.  Mrs. Obama proclaimed it a "who's who of water."

No war on soda...and a track record of successful promotions...
More importantly, Mrs. Obama's coalition includes soda corporations Coca-Cola, makers of Dasani bottled water, and PepsiCo, makers of Aquafina, both of which Mrs. Obama mentioned by name during her remarks.  While Mrs. Obama has often advised parents to "swap" water for soda and other sugary beverages, she has never called for a ban on these.  

And she counts two major soda promoters, Shaquille O'Neal, who has his own line of beverages, Soda Shaq, and Beyoncé Carter-Knowles, the global spokesperson for PepsiCo, among her celebrity Let's Move! ambassadors.

But the First Lady's failure to speak out against soda with the water project also got her criticism on Thursday.  

"Add drink less soda," Dr. Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, advised Mrs. Obama via Twitter.  Nestle, like other prominent nutritionists, has been consulted by the White House for Let's Move!.

Health watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which last week rebuked Mrs. Obama for including O'Neal as a Let's Move! ambassador thanks to his Soda Shaq line, also thinks the First Lady should speak against soda and other sugary beverages. 

"We're delighted that First Lady Michelle Obama is urging people to drink more water," Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement, but he noted that "there's not exactly a hydration crisis in this country that needs solving."

"Soda and other sugar drinks are one of the biggest promoters of obesity and diabetes, and advocating drinking more actual water and less sugar water is one of the most important messages that Let's Move could deliver," Jacobson said.

But the First Lady will never publicly bash soda or sugary beverages, thanks to relying on partnerships with the food and beverage industry to help her achieve her goal of dropping the national prevalence of child obesity from its current rate of about 17% to to just 5% by 2030.  

Telling Americans not to drink soda would not only turn Mrs. Obama into the chief of the food police, but it would also engage her in a battle she couldn't win.  The soda companies have shown themselves willing to throw epic amounts of cash at any effort that might impinge on profit margins: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg can attest to this.  As can the fact that soda can be purchased with federal Food Stamp dollars.

Instead the First Lady will devote herself to aggressively extolling the virtues of water, telling Americans it is the "best choice," parroting the all-important rhetoric of freedom.

And having the world's two biggest soda companies supporting her is a big win for her campaign; they're now tied to promoting water for Mrs. Obama, in competition against their own sugary brands.  

The push for water will be relentless, the First Lady promised the Watertown crowd.

"You know me best for my fruits and vegetables, but you’re going to know me for water as well," she said.   

"This isn’t a drop in the bucket. We’re aiming to make a huge splash." 

If Mrs. Obama's track record holds true, she will indeed make a huge splash.  Let's Move! corporate partner Birds Eye last year reported an increase in sales after creating a multi-milllion dollar advertising campaign with Nickelodeon to tout frozen products; it was such a success the company re-upped for another three-year effort.  Mrs. Obama's signature South Lawn Kitchen Garden has been credited with an ongoing spike in sales of seeds and gardening tools, and her influence on clothing sales is now the stuff of legend.  

She is also surfing a wave of increasing water consumption.  Americans are already drinking more water, according to a March report in Beverage Digest, which noted that Americans now drink an average of about 58 gallons of water per year, an increase of 38 percent from 1998.  That beats the average intake of soda, which is about 44 gallons per year. 

Mrs. Obama is hoping to "accelerate" the trend, said Kass.   "We've got a lot of momentum; we can piggyback" on the uptick, he said.

The First Lady's non-profit partners include The California Endowment and Food Corps, and in the digital media world, she has Unite4:Good, Cooking Light, MyRecipes, BlogHer, Inc., Disney and Nickelodeon on board.  Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles county will be among the first municipalities to spotlight the initiative, Mrs. Obama said.

The First Lady ended her remarks by raising a blue plastic reusable water bottle to toast her campaign, joined by Longoria and the crowd of about 1,500.  She also Instagramed a video of herself with a water bottle, asking America to celebrate with her in a "virtual toast."  

After, the First Lady and Longoria--who seemed to be at the event primarily as a living symbol of the star power Mrs. Obama has sloshing through her campaign--joined the high school students in water-themed games in the gym, including a water relay race (posted as a White House Vine video), and a watery ring toss.  The activities also included a surfing game, where students could climb aboard a set of rubber waves and ride a surfboard. 

The push on social media and TV...
Mrs. Obama's Drink Up video messages on Thursday were featured on Today show, Good Morning America, The View, LIVE with Kelly and Michael, Katie, Nuevo Dia, and Despierta America.  On every show, the hosts dutifully raised their Drink Up logo'd glasses and toasted the campaign, discussed their own water consumption, and tweeted photos of themselves in action.  (Above, the Instagram tweeted by LIVE's Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan)

"I don't drink enough water," Today's Matt Lauer declared as he drank, while Al Roker, who has joined Mrs. Obama for cooking demonstrations at White House Easter Egg Rolls, said that he drinks "seven or eight glasses a day."

Other celebrities, such as Scandal's Kerry Washington and movie star James Franco also offered their endorsement on Twitter.  Yankee centerfielder Curtis Granderson posted a photo of himself with Orioles outfielder Chris Dickerson, drinking water. 

"Supporting @LetsMove & @PHAnews to celebrate the launch of #DrinkH2O @urH2O with @cdickerson_pftp!" Granderson tweeted. 

There was more on Thursday night to bookend the launch: Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and Jay Leno were all scheduled to toast Mrs. Obama's campaign during their late-night shows.  Each has welcomed Mrs. Obama to their sets to promote Let's Move!. 

Letterman spent close to three minutes discussing Drink Up on Late Show, a jumbo chunk of time for TV.  He said Mrs. Obama had personally called him to ask what beverage is in the coffee cup that is ever present on his desk--it's usually coffee, he said, but quipped that he wished it was "something else"--and noted that federal recommendations for men are eight to fourteen 8 ounce glasses of water daily.

"I don't drink a MONTH," Letterman said.  "I feel dehydrated...I feel like the guy who wandered in from the desert with Howard Hughes' will."

"So I'm helping out the First Lady of the United States," Letterman said.

"I've made a mistake my entire life, and now I'm going to make a concerted effort to drink more water," Letterman added.

He raised his Drink Up logo'd glass and drank his water as a video of Mrs. Obama was played, where she joked that rather than creating one of Letterman's signature Top Ten lists for reasons for drinking water, there's "just one."

"We are what we drink," Mrs. Obama said.  "Water gives us the energy we need to do more and feel better."

The Letterman video:

*The transcripts of the First Lady's remarks in Watertown.

*The White House press release for Drink Up.

The Drink Up website is  On Twitter:  @URH20.  The Let's Move! website is 

*Top photo by First Lady Michelle Obama; Kass photo by Let's Move! third via LIVE with Kelly and Michael; video from CBS Late Show/Worldwide Pants, Inc.