Switch The Drink
Case Study

Switch The Drink

The Challenge

Sugary drinks are brilliantly packaged, expertly marketed and scientifically formulated to please us. They also make us fat. The Horizon Foundation wanted to reverse the obesity trend in Maryland’s Howard County and discourage one of the leading causes of obesity -- the sugary drink.

Typical Approach

Show just how bad sugary drinks are. Run PSAs showing their relationship to obesity and diabetes to build awareness of the dangers.

Our Approach

Our research showed mothers already recognized that sugary drinks could be unhealthy. But they also knew something else: Kids love them. More emphasis on what’s bad about sugary drinks wouldn’t solve that problem, nor would it add a new motivation. What’s more, given all the publicity already around poor childhood nutrition, most mothers felt their kids were doing comparatively better than the worst case scenario. Their kids weren’t perfect; they were normal. We helped Horizon with a strategy that helped parents (rather than lectured them) and that established a new norm (rather than reinforce existing ones) using policy, communication and technology. To help parents, we built a Better Beverage Finder, an app that lets users shop for healthy beverages, sorting through more than 300 choices by beverage type, sweetener, suitability for children and presence of caffeine. We also launched a Switch-The-Drink app that suggests alternative beverages based on one’s favorite sugary drink. Our advertising promoted an emerging norm in which children themselves were rejecting sugary drinks and expecting their parents to do the same. We also supported Horizon’s Better Choices Coalition that successfully pressed for changes in public spaces, in government policies and on school grounds. We also worked to undermine the beverage industry’s appeal to consumers. A video parodying a typical Coca-Cola ad was promoted online and received over 76,000 views. We ran social media ads to counter sugary beverage promotions during the World Cup and Super Bowl. We also created a ground game: During the summer months, street teams greeted residents with healthy beverage samples and campaign swag in pools, parks, churches and sports venues. And we put one of the target audiences center stage with a high school documentary video contest involving Grammy Award nominated R&B singer Mario Barrett.

The Results

Three years into the campaign, outside evaluators from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity documented that retail soda sales had dropped by 20% and sales of both 100% juice and fruit-flavored drinks with added sugars dropped by 15%, while remaining stable in a comparison community. A peer-reviewed article on the campaign was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Switch The Drink