You’ve heard of it. You’ve seen the ads. You may have even tried it—you’d probably remember if you had. Olean—or olestra, as the chemical is called—is the controversial fat substitute Procter & Gamble is putting into snack foods to make them taste fatty but not actually be fatty.
Mother Jones reported last year on P&G’s huge PR campaign for olestra, but now P&G has opened a new front: consumer advertising. In an effort to dispel the many studies that show “anal leakage,” vitamin deficiencies, and other nasty side effects from olestra, the bad boys in Cincinnati are running an extensive, multi-million-dollar TV and print ad campaign for Olean. You might recall watching 1998 Winter Olympics when the TV ads premiered: Gentle music plays in the background, a weathered barn matching the authentic-looking farmer who appears in the middle of a soybean field in Iowa (it could be Kevin Costner). An ad for life insurance? Organic veggies? Nope, it’s P&G’s spin control on a synthetic chemical that slides through your body without leaving any calories behind. Sound slippery? P&G says Americans have no problem with it; as a matter of fact, P&G says its only problem is “keeping the product on the shelves.” The MoJo Wire annotates: