Corporate Social Irresponsibility: PR’s next BIG thing

What do brands such as 7-11, Armour and Hooters have in common? They all sponsor competitive binge-eating contests. Slide1 In case you've somehow missed it, competitive binge eating is the next new thing. Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs pioneered the caloriefest and now lots of other brands are following suit (and setting a horrific example for a nation already beset by obesity and weight-related illnesses).

All of which spells opportunity for some enterprising public relations entrepreneur. In fact, I'll bet a quarter pounder with cheese that there's some latter-day, bizarro world version of Carol Cone just salivating over the revenue potential. (Note: Carol Cone is widely recognized in PR circles for pioneering cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs. Today, nearly every organization purports to 'do good' and some actually do.)

But, back to the business development opportunity. This past July 4th weekend, Joey 'The Jaws' Chestnut won his fifth consecutive Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island by consuming 62 dogs in 10 minutes (@ 397 calories per frank, Jaws inhaled some 24,614 calories in 600 seconds. I gag just looking at those numbers).

I'm also thrilled to report that Sonya Thomas won Nathan's first-ever women's competition by scarfing down 40 dogs in the same 10 minutes. I say thrilled because now women can't point to this obscenity as yet another example of 'stupid guy things.'

By winning their respective competitions, Chestnut and Thomas automatically become members of the Major League Eating Hall of Fame. For you non-foodies, MLE is the official governing body of binge eating and includes such other superstar athletes as:

– Don Lerman, who holds a world's record for consuming SIX POUNDS of baked beans in one minute and 48 seconds (note to self: do NOT stand downwind of Big Don).

– Cookie Jarvis, who shoveled down six and two-thirds pounds of linguini at one sitting (and, I'll bet she remained seated for some time afterwards. I wouldn't be able to move for a week).

– Takeru Kobayoshi, who sucked down 57 cow brains in 15 minutes (something tells me Kobayoshi-san didn't have much category competition, though. "The cow brain-eating contest? Hell no. I'm here to throw back some bratwurst.").

A cursory glance at the World Eating League's website reveals such major sponsors as Heinz and Pepto-Bismol. Heinz ketchup and mustard has to be the K-Y Jelly of binge-eating. I can't believe anyone can taste anything after, say, the 41st dog has inched its way past the trachea. It's all about lubrication at that point.

Pepto's marketing spend is a no-brainer. But where are Tums, Immodium and, of course, Scott Tissue?

And, how, exactly do the makers of Heinz and Pepto explain their sponsorships in annual reports? "In another area of cause marketing, Your Company once again contributed $1 million to sponsor the World Eating League. Management and directors alike believe obesity is not a problem but, rather, an opportunity that will provide immediate shareholder growth (and girth)."

I jest of course. These companies should be ashamed of themselves. So, too, should the competitors, who actually believe they're athletes. I always thought athletes burned calories, not consumed them.

The real losers though, as always, are our nation's kids. I can just picture 12-year-old, 200-pound Johnny or Sally Ann  giving up on their fitness program and opting instead to pursue a career as a World Eating Champion. "Hey mom and dad! I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. The king of the hot dog eating universe!"

But, enough already with French Fries finger pointing and Buffalo wing bashing, I have a business plan to write and some misbehaving brands to pitch. I think Corporate Social Irresponsibility is PR's next BIG thing (and, what a great double entendre the service offering's initials will make. "CSI? You betcha! In fact, we have an entire division devoted to it.").

And a tip o' the toque to Valerie "the Foodie" Di Maria for this suggestion.

13 thoughts on “Corporate Social Irresponsibility: PR’s next BIG thing

  1. With today’s declaration of famine in two areas of Somalia, it makes me question why we’re funnelling so much food and money into countless eating contests (like the ones held by Nathan’s annually) instead of giving the food and money to those in need. I’m sure starving children would benefit much more from the 24,614 calories found in 62 hot dogs than professional eaters like Joey Chestnut and Sonya Thomas would.

  2. I actually went to the Nathan’s hot dog eating competition this past weekend. I was in NYC visiting my sister for the 4th and I had never been to Coney Island before. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and I quickly realized it’s definitely one of those places you only need to go once. It was pure madness as some 40 or 50,000 people gathered to watch people stuff their faces with processed beef. There may be an official binge-eating league, but that does not make these competitive eaters athletes of any kind. (Though I have to admit, it did make me want to try an official Nathan’s hot dog, which I spent the rest of the day walking off.)

  3. I couldn’t agree more, Julie. Even though I detest the role McDonald’s has played in our nation’s obesity epidemic, at least they’re trying to simultaneously introduce socially responsible programs. The marketers at Armour, 7-11, Pepto-Bismol and Heinz who decided to sponsor binge eating should be forced to eat 57 cow brains in 10 minutes. That should change their minds.

  4. Thanks Book. Not to worry re: our representing Nathan’s. My stomach couldn’t handle it. See you soon.

  5. Since when did gluttony qualify as a major league sport requiring talent?
    With the obesity epidemic in this country, it seems to me that the corporate sponsors would be better off underwriting a more healthy activity.

  6. Beyond the unseemly overindulgence, these brands need to think about whether they’re unwittingly underscoring a vulnerability regarding the healthiness (or lack thereof) of their product. You know, McDonald’s probably thought a movie about eating their food everyday was a great idea, until Morgan Spurlock was able to demonstrate how rapidly his health was deteriorating on this diet. I’m all for fun and games, but brands should think about unintended consequences.
    P.S. Appalachian trails, Argentinian tail…best line of the year.

  7. I had one hot dog this entire summer so far and now I feel bad about that one! In 10 minutes I could eat 2 hot dogs and could eat the same amount in an hour as two is the maximum any human should consume, don’t you think? There is nothing I want to eat en masse, in bulk, whatever (well maybe pistachio nuts but I gave them up after the chipped tooth incident in Spain) so my answer is still “no”. I am counting on you to do the right thing here and NEVER promote the Nathan’s of the world. Have missed you Rep. Have a great trip to Maine soon. Dinner when you get back? Blue Water is awesome.