John O'Farrell: Snack food companies' desperate struggles to avoid relegation

A well-established tenet of propaganda is that if you are going to tell a lie, tell a really big one: "The Luftwaffe have destroyed all of London"; or "This watch is waterproof to a depth of 100 metres". So it is with Walkers Crisps getting its brand associated with a new TV show aimed at tackling Britain's obesity crisis. If your product's biggest problem is that it is perceived as unhealthy, then keep repeating the subconscious message that eating crisps is what healthy sporty people like to do. That's why Walkers sponsors Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Because it wants people to associate its brand with, erm, desperate struggles to avoid relegation.

In the biggest row about inappropriate commercial tie-ins since the Home-Assembly Power Saw sponsored Casualty, Walkers Snacks Limited has been criticised for getting involved in a new high-profile TV campaign to help Britons lose weight. Walkers is set to help fund the planned give away around 2m step-o-meters that measure how far people walk every day, which seems like a bit of a waste of money - clearly it's five yards from the sofa to the fridge, and 10 yards from the front door to the car.

This forthcoming TV campaign will be called "Britain on the Move" and aims to tackle Britain's obesity crisis by getting everyone to sit around watching TV shows about healthier lifestyles. Walkers was presumably thought to be ideal because the central mission of this health initiative is to get everyone walking. "Brilliant idea!" said the PR company. "We want to make people walk, and these crisps are called Walkers! It's perfect!" Presumably they'd already been declined by Strollers biscuits and Joggers, the deep-fried chocolate doughnut people. Of course, the great thing about walking as a form of exercise is that it keeps your hands free for stuffing Doritos' Dippas in your gob.

This row follows persistent criticism of Britain's crisp producers that their crisps are poor value, that Wotsits are actually flavoured bits of polystyrene used for packing fragile parcels, and that Monster Munch simply aren't scary enough. However, try reading the fat content for the average Monster's packet and you'll realise they're actually terrifying.

Britain eats more crisps than the rest of Europe put together, and for some time now the government has been concerned about the way in which fried snack foods exacerbate our growing obesity problem.

In the Department of Health recently, the politicians were presented with some typical packets of crisps and asked to read the alarming figures printed on the back. "Hang on a minute, this can't be right ... " said the minister, " ... in my day salt and vinegar always came in blue packets, and cheese and onion was always green; this is the wrong way round ... " "Well, maybe it's changed, minister, but just look at the fat and salt values listed on the packet there ... " "But hang on, why have they changed the colours? Cheese and onion should be green, it just confuses everything ... " The MPs then opened a packet, allowing each other to sample the various flavours. "Oi, don't take a whole handful!" "Well you don't have to hold the packet in the middle like that ... "

In the end the government decided against banning junk food advertising aimed at children, perhaps because it was hard to imagine healthier foodstuffs stepping into the breach: "The Premiership is sponsored by organic wholemeal pasta"; "Welcome to the FA Cup Final, sponsored by lettuce". But surely it won't be long until we have to watch our children at their junk-food sponsored school's sports day. Instead of throwing the discus, kids will have to lob a deep-fried pizza towards the lunch queue. In place of the shot putt, kids will have to use all their strength to lift that enormous Easter egg that they got from Aunty Vera, and then the race is on for who can eat theirs the quickest.

A few years back, Walkers was criticised for the way it encouraged schoolchildren to eat crisps by getting them to collect tokens which would be exchanged for books. It was a great deal; if every child in the school ate seven packets of crisps a day for two years, the school library got enough tokens for one new book explaining premature heart disease.

If ITV is sincere about wanting to improve the nation's health, it should reject any involvement between Walkers Snacks and the Britain on the Move campaign. Britain's obesity crisis is a serious problem and should not be used as an opportunity for surreptitious fatty food advertising. It's enough to make you switch channels. Except the remote control has slipped under the sofa cushions and I'm not getting up now.

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