In this piece titled “Public Relations’ Role in Manufacturing Artificial Grass Roots Coalitions,” professor Sharon Beder of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, masterfully details the very common industry tactic known as “astroturfing.”
- “When a corporation wants to oppose environmental regulations, or support an environmentally damaging development, it may do so openly and in its own name. But it is far more effective to have a group of citizens or experts — and preferably a coalition of such groups — which can publicly promote the outcomes desired by the corporation while claiming to represent the public interest. When such groups do not already exist, the modern corporation can pay a public relations firm to create them.”
- “The use of such ‘front groups’ enables corporations to take part in public debates and government hearings behind a cover of community concern.”
- “If Burger King were to report that a Whopper is nutritious, informed consumers would probably shrug in disbelief…. And if the Nutrasweet Company were to insist that the artificial sweetener aspartame has no side effects, consumers might not be inclined to believe them, either…. But if the ‘American Council on Science and Health’ and its panel of 200 ‘expert’ scientists reported that Whoppers were not so bad, consumers might actually listen…. And if the ‘Calorie Control Council’ reported that aspartame is not really dangerous, weight-conscious consumers might continue dumping the artificial sweetener in their coffee every morning without concerns.”
- “The American Council on Science and Health is one of many corporate front groups which allow industry-funded experts to pose as independent scientists to promote corporate causes.”
- “Artificially created grassroots coalitions are referred to in the industry as ‘astroturf’ (after a synthetic grass product). Astroturf is a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.” According to Consumer Reports magazine, those engaging in this sort of work can earn up to $500 “for every citizen they mobilize for a corporate client’s cause.”
For a recent real-life example of these tactics, see this article on Coca-Cola astroturfing in the Bay Area this past November as a way to fight a proposed soda tax.