January 2, 2008 —
In a dubious effort to curb skyrocketing childhood obesity rates in Mexico, Pepsico has released a video game aimed at educating children about healthy choices. The game compels children to monitor a Tamagotchi-like character called "Nutrin," ensuring that he balances his caloric intake with exercise — presumably sending the message that Pepsico products can be a part of a healthy lifestyle so long as one plays enough soccer.
The program mirrors recent efforts by McDonalds in the United States to raise awareness among children about healthy eating. But while McDonalds seems to have taken its responsibilities — or more likely, PR crisis — seriously, Pepsico is addressing the issue in about as cynical a manner as possible.
By all accounts the McDonalds campaign has so far been extremely successful, not just because its education efforts are being promoted across a variety of mediums including television, internet, and in-store marketing, but because the restaurant has made significant changes to its children's menu, giving kids and parents enough healthy options to keep everybody happy.
By comparison, Pepsi reverts to a standard PR line, pointing out that it manufactures products that are lower in fat and sugar than its best selling items, but that "Mexicans haven't wanted to buy them." A few years ago McDonalds was making similar statements, but ultimately, when a company spends millions marketing unhealthy products to children, it can hardly be surprised when children favor those products over healthful alternatives.
So if Pepsi doesn't care about the public health crisis in Mexico, why bother releasing a video game in the first place? A year ago politicians in Mexico nearly passed a 5% additional tax on soft drinks meant to make the prices of cheap junk food more competitive with their healthy alternatives. The law didn't pass, but surely an effort at taxation and regulation of the junk food industry in Mexico was enough to make Pepsi flinch, and when a company like Pepsi flinches, embarrassing efforts like this video game usually follow.