Of all the horrible mainstream media coverage the supplement industry has been subject to for years, including the 2013 pre-Christmas “five major hits in five days” bloodbath, John Oliver’s recent skewering of the industry seems to be the most upsetting, generating demands to all the major trade associations to “do something.”
Wait, NOW you’re upset?
Oliver’s cherry picking of the facts to present a very slanted view of our industry was nothing new. We see it all the time. We’re frustrated by it all the time. But this one seemed to hurt more acutely. Maybe it was because it meant we can’t trust his other reports either, which is sad because we really like him. I felt that way but also saw we were lucky that he didn’t issue a call to action like he did with net neutrality, which generated so much response that it crashed the FCC website.
But again, this was just one of the many, many slanted representations of our industry that could easily undermine consumer confidence in our products and make it harder to fight off more stringent regulation that would make our products unaffordable, at best, and unavailable at worst. The good news is many consumers are still committed to vitamins and other dietary supplements. If you look at the comments sections of online news reports that slam our industry, there are usually a lot of them that aren’t buying the premise that our products are 1) dangerous 2) do nothing or 3) both.
Overall sales have not really been badly impacted with the notable exceptions of vitamin E and omega-3s, but it’s insane to just keep whining about it and not be more proactive in ways that reinforce consumer confidence in our products. As someone who has been doing PR exclusively for our industry for 25 years, I understandably think about this a lot. And I think we have to do two things, neither of which involves trying to set the record straight with the mainstream media. That’s a fool’s errand.
So what do we do?
First and foremost, make sure you are selling products that work. After the Pom Wonderful Supreme Court decision you heard industry experts recommend reviewing your labels to make sure you have a therapeutic dose of everything in there. Heed that advice and be sure your company is not “fairy dusting.” Consumers deserve the benefits they assume they are getting when they buy and consume supplements. Keep your customer’s faith by ensuring they get those benefits: source quality ingredients and put enough in there to do what they are supposed to do.
The second thing is to use all available tools to communicate directly with your customers and educate them. Now more than ever you have many ways to control the message, and can be accurate, truthful and informative. Listen to your customers, and make it clear that you hear them, and you value them.
When we do those two things we keep faith with our customers, and retain them as the allies and advocates so essential to counteract those who cherry pick facts for their own agenda.