Watermelon’s PR campaign rivals a politician’s

Written by Jayson Jacoby March 28, 2014 01:58 pm

I did not realize that watermelon has the sort of public relations apparatus normally reserved for heads of state or platinum-selling rock bands.

Nor did I know that watermelon exudes citrulline and arginine, which sound like components of gasoline but which apparently are natural substances that confer health benefits.

But now I do know those facts — and much else besides about this truly miraculous fruit — thanks to the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

This organization, I was disappointed to learn, is not based in Hermiston.

That city of course is associated with watermelons in these parts much in the way that Walla Walla is known for onions.

In fact the promotional arm for the watermelon has its headquarters in Orlando, Fla.

I had that region pegged more as orange country, but I supposed the beneficent Florida climate and fecund soil can render all manner of sweet and juicy produce.

A goodly portion of my daily mail arrives these days electronically, but the missive from Big Watermelon was delivered by traditional means.

It is printed on glossy, thick-stock paper with vibrant colors and a lavish design that reminds me of the brochures published by state tourism commissions.

Which is basically what the National Watermelon Promotion Board is, except its goal is to convince you to eat a lot of watermelon rather than to visit Arizona or Vermont.

I have made no exhaustive  study of the topic but it seems to me that for pretty much any product you can think of, there exists an organization whose sole purpose is to persuade people to buy more of that product.

Being a minor player in the information business I expect I get more stuff from these outfits than most people do.

The reason, of course, is that the hawkers of watermelon and whatever else hope to cajole some free publicity from the newspapers on their mailing lists.

(And obviously, with saps like me allowed access to keyboards, this approach works.)

I’ve long had an interest in this branch of the media.

At the University of Oregon, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial journalism, the journalism school (since renamed as the School of Journalism and Communication) had five separate career paths.

Besides news-editorial there were radio/TV, advertising, magazine and public relations.

Today students choose among four: journalism (which is comparable to news-editorial), advertising, media studies and public relations.

I’m not surprised that public relations and advertising persist, and without so much as a name change.

Even as newspapers and magazines struggle to adjust to the vastly different world of communication that the Internet has wrought, a person who can deftly combine the conveying of information with a clever sales pitch remains a useful employee with a valuable skill.

And it seems to me that people who can do that kind of work have considerably more options than those of use whose resumés list only newspaper jobs.

They could, for instance, put together promotional packets for The Popcorn Board.

A manila envelope from that outfit shows up at our office a couple times a year, bearing not only breathless descriptions of popcorn’s myriad virtues but also a package of microwave popcorn.

This is a shameless way to pitch a product, of course, a blatant bribe, but at least The Popcorn Board backs up its bluster with real calories.

No part of the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s material was obviously edible.

Although I suppose the postage bill to correct that oversight would have been horrendous.

If I ever think of it I’d like to collect these mailings for the whole of a year and then publish a list of all the products being touted.

I’ll bet the volume, and the breadth of items, would surprise me, and perhaps you as well.

Trouble is I typically toss the things into the trash or the recycle bin, sometimes without even breaking the envelope’s seal.

Rarely do I feel that a story explaining how to “plan an unforgettable party with Watermelon Cranberry Sauce over Brie” is the best choice to occupy news space in the Baker City Herald.

I don’t mean to imply that these media packets — “kits,” they’re called in the trade — are devoid of information.

To the contrary — if you can sort through the spoils of puffery you’ll find rich deposits of real data.

Not useful data for my purposes, most often, but still and all I have an affinity for knowledge and so I appreciate learning, courtesy of Big Watermelon, that the fruit is “the lycopene leader among fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The watermelon brochure doesn’t tell me what lycopene is, exactly. But as it’s listed among other presumably beneficial things such as vitamins, I take it that I ought to be eating more of it.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.