Confessions of an Ad Agency Insider

It was about 25 years ago. Right around the time that eggs were declared "poison in a shell", that, almost overnight, cholesterol became the scapegoat for seemingly everything from heart disease to dandruff.

This was a huge problem for the Canadian Egg Marketing Board and they were my client so this became a huge problem for me. I worked for an advertising agency at the time that counted several marketing boards (milk, chicken and egg) among their clients.

When the news hit that eggs were going to be the death of us all, we sprung into action. One of the first things we did was fund a study at a local university. This study, not surprisingly, concluded that eggs, eaten in moderation (which translated to one a day) posed no health risk and was even beneficial.

So, what propaganda does the egg industry rely on to promote their commercial interests? . . . the red herring is a misplaced focus on elevated fasting levels of LDL cholesterol as the main or only harmful effect of dietary cholesterol”. The real concern is how, and when, blood cholesterol levels are measured as an indicator of health concerns.
— Dr. J. David Spence, Professor of Neurology and Clinical Pharamcology, Western University, Canada

Armed with these "facts", we proceeded to discredit every other study published on the subject. We had an "expert" scientist on the payroll and we made a lot of noise. The truth about eggs and health were never didn't matter. Sales were going to be affected and that had to be stopped. This fear of falling revenues was responsible for a lot of very questionable, hanging-by-a-thread-of-truth marketing. And I was responsible for a lot of it. It wasn't just eggs, the dairy industry was notorious for disseminating half-truths cloaked in clever marketing messages, too.

The AEB (Amercian Egg Board) claims about egg safety found to be patently false, misleading, and deceptive by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

I remember sitting around a boardroom table trying to figure out a way to increase sales of fluid milk in a declining market threatened almost daily by the emergence of damaging science and the launch of plant-based milk alternatives. We came up with what we called the "drop" campaign. We knew that trying to get people to drink more milk by the glassful would be a hard sell, but if we could convince people to use a 1/4 cup here and a tablespoon there, they would still have to purchase it in larger volume packaging and we could slow the decline in sales.

The American Board’s primary purpose is to market and promote increased egg consumption to the consumer on behalf of its members - the egg farmers of America.

Canada’s new food guide drops dairy as a food group and introduces plant-based sources to obtain protein. While eggs and some dairy remain in the “protein” category, they are significantly reduced relative to previous decades of food guides.

The idea was to come up with a dozen or so food items, like pancakes, mac'n cheese and scrambled eggs, that were objectively better when made with dairy milk than, say, water! Sounds easy, right? We hired a professional chef and proceeded to taste test the recipes made with dairy milk, and, with what we laughed at at the time, water. Here's the problem. There was almost no difference except for the embarrassing "never to leave this room" realization that more than a few dishes made with water were preferred in blind taste tests to the same dish made with dairy milk! Not really sticklers for truth in advertising, we proceeded with the campaign and, no doubt, convinced a whole lot of people that these dishes are infinitely better, both from a taste point-of-view, and nutritionally, when made with milk - even if it was only 1 tablespoon of milk! It may seem like a small thing...making pancakes with milk instead of water, but it was part of a larger problem of ignoring the facts to safeguard the profits. And animal welfare was never an issue. Not discussed even once. This willingness to ignore what doesn't serve the bottom line is finally starting to crumble. Canada's new Food Guide is hard proof of this. And no doubt the marketing boards I once willingly mislead the public for are now very, very scared. I couldn't be happier.


This blog post was submitted by “Janet”, whose name and identity has been concealed upon request. “Janet” was an Account Manager and Copywriter at an ad agency in Toronto hired by the Canadian Egg Farmers.