A Profile of Celebrities Involved in the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Fruits & Veggies (FNV) Campaign

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Most Americans do not consume the minimum daily 4.5-cup equivalent servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 (DGA). In 2015, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) launched a $5 million dollar branded marketing campaign called FNV (Fruits & Veggies) in Fresno, California and Hampton Roads Virginia to increase sales and consumption of fruits and vegetables among ethnically and racially diverse millennial moms (21-34 years) and Generation Z teens (15-20 years). Pro bono celebrity endorsement is a feature of the FNV Campaign’s IMC strategy, complemented by the use of print, broadcast and social media; sponsored community events; and in-store food retail marketing. A Virginia Tech evaluation team examined the FNV Campaign celebrities’ demographic profile (i.e., race, ethnicity, sex and age); food category and brand endorsements; and company or organization partnerships between April 2015 and December 2016.

Methods: The FNV Campaign celebrity names (n=82) were obtained from the FNV website, verified by PHA staff, and entered into a larger Excel database of celebrities (n=552) associated with food and beverage group, brand or product endorsements in the United States between 1990 and 2016. We collaborated with computer scientists to use a python-based scripting engine and data visualization tools to analyze and display the relationships among each FNV Campaign celebrity; company, organization or campaign association; and brand or product category endorsements. We created a scatterplot for each celebrity’s food and beverage category or product endorsement to assess whether it met the U.S. DGA 2015-2020 and USDA’s Smart Snacks in School Standards. Two interactive dedrograms illustrated the FNV celebrity endorsement relationships between products, brands and companies.

Results: The 552 unique celebrities were associated with 745 endorsements representing 159 brands across 13 food and beverage categories. The 82 FNV Campaign celebrities represented 15% of the entire database. Two thirds were male (68%; n=56) and they are primarily white (46%; n=38) or African American (43%; n=35). FNV Campaign celebrities were associated with a quarter (23%; n=37) of brands promoting fruits and vegetables; water, low- or no-calorie beverages (LCB or NCB) ≤60 calories/12 ounce-serving; and dairy or milk. The FNV Campaign celebrities were involved with 121 endorsements across 12 food and beverages categories. Three quarters (76%; n=62) endorsed only FNV; 12% (n=10) endorsed FNV and another brand; and 10% (n=8) endorsed FNV and 2-3 other brands. Apolo Ohno and Serena Williams endorsed FNV and 5-8 other brands. More than two thirds (70%; n=14) of FNV celebrities endorsed associated with products high in fat, sugar and sodium.

Conclusions: Empirical evidence is needed to evaluate whether the target populations recognize the FNV Campaign celebrities, and how they view multiple endorsers for fruits and vegetables versus sugar-sweetened beverages, restaurant meals, salty and sweet snacks and desserts. We offer six recommendations to build an evidence base that will reveal whether the FNV Campaign’s celebrity endorsement is effective to encourage Americans to buy and consume more fruits and vegetables.