‘Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie’

It’s hard to keep up with glutamate-industry propaganda, as they clearly have some of the most creative minds in the business. The latest to handle PR for Ajinomoto Co, Inc. (the leading producer of monosodium glutamate) is none other than Daniel J. Edelman Public Relations, the largest independently owned PR firm in the world.

At the beginning of this year, Richard Edelman (son of founder Daniel), when writing about how honored he was that his namesake agency was listed as a “best place to work” by Ad Age, proudly told how they are now working with Ajinomoto to “set the record straight about long-misunderstood monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the U.S.”

And that explains a lot about the bold new propaganda campaigns we’ve been seeing lately — significantly different approaches. One in particular masquerades as an announcement of a newsworthy event to be featured in business sections of some top-name newspapers.

“Rescuing MSG’s Unsavory Reputation” was carried by the Chicago Tribune, the Latin American Herald Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal among others, with lots of “feel- good” words paired with “monosodium glutamate.”  Psychologists might call it conditioning; we call it brainwashing. The same piece was also posted in Food Processing, which calls itself “the information source for food and beverage manufacturers,” under the headline, “Ajinomoto Wants to Repair MSG’s Reputation.”

Now we’ve seen “The man who discovered umami,” by Veronique Greenwood, in no less a program than BBC’s “Future”. This time, the message that MSG is a harmless flavor enhancer is encased in a pleasant story about the glories of “umami.”  And in this friendly, good-natured, affable little tale is inserted the message that the consumer is supposed to take away:

“The product, a monosodium glutamate (MSG) powder called Aji-No-Moto, is still made today. (Although rumuors have swirled periodically that eating too much MSG can give people headaches and other health problems, the US Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence for such claims. It just makes food taste more savoury.)”

It’s clever, for sure. But Edelman has a long history of clever propaganda techniques. One that it terms “litigation PR,” was used to stop a dozen state attorneys general from joining the anti-trust actions taken against Microsoft in the late 1990s. Other efforts of theirs have included representing the American Petroleum Institute at a reported fee of $52 million a year in an “astroturfing” venture (a fake grass-roots campaign typically industry funded) to promote fracking, as well as other climate-change-denial crusades, and working with Big Tobacco to help “slow or reverse” public opinion regarding smoking. One document from the late 1970s, produced by Edelman for RJ Reynolds, states that their purpose is to “begin the process of establishing that there is another point of view on the cigarette question.”

But nothing describes Edelman’s MSG “set the record straight” effort better than a story that appeared in Gawker ten years ago. According to an unnamed, top-level marketing executive, an Edelman senior management training session included this quote: “Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is OK.”

We can’t wait to see what these propaganda artists will have in store for us next. 

References:

https://www.edelman.com/insights/edelman-ad-age-best-places-work-2019

https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Edelman

https://gawker.com/356220/sometimes-you-just-have-to-stand-up-there-and-lie

https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=mybm0104

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