Those wanting a glimpse into how a Conservative government would engage with brands to tackle the nation's health problems need look no further than the Public Health Commission (PHC) report, 'We're All In This Together', published last week.
The commission was set up by the Conservative party to examine health issues. Its report is a response to the party's call for a 'Responsibility Deal' which laid out its thinking on how business and government could come together to aid the nation's health.
Although founded and backed by the Tories, the PHC claims to be 'non-political'. It comprises a group of high-powered executives from business, trade associations and the voluntary sector, such as Baroness Peta Buscombe, the former chief executive of the Advertising Association, and Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
Unusually, the report was chaired by Dave Lewis, chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland. At its launch he admitted his involvement risked 'cheap shots' at certain Unilever brands (presumably a reference to Pot Noodle) as well as accusations of political bias.
However, he did not shy away from attacking the government's record, accusing the current administration of a lack of strategic thinking in terms of its health initiatives. 'People get lots of information about their health - at work, in schools, in their communities and through the media. But they're not getting clear and consistent support and sufficiently motivating messages,' he says. 'Because the initiatives we have aren't strategic, they don't fit together and they aren't working.'
While shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, also in attendance at the launch, was unable to give assurances that all the report's recommendations would be implemented in the event of a Conservative election victory, he did single out some findings that had his support.
Lansley is particularly keen on the idea of extending the government-backed Change4Life healthy-eating initiative to cover responsible drinking. He also echoed the need for a wider recognition of the links between drinking and obesity. 'People are faced with a series of branded initiatives, some delivered in partnership with business, some without, all with slightly different slogans and advice,' states the report. 'Our desire is that people be faced with just one.'
It calls for Change4Life to encompass the alcohol industry's upcoming Campaign for Smarter Drinking. It would focus on healthy diet, energy (marking a departure from current thinking by including the calories contributed by alcohol) and responsible drinking. It would be aimed both at adults and children.
Not everyone, however, is convinced. David Poley, chief executive of alcohol industry body The Portman Group, says its preferred model of delivery for alcohol education is through the drinks-industry-funded Drinkaware Trust.
He also questions the emphasis in the report on the calorie content of alcohol. 'We believe it is alcohol, not calorie content that should primarily drive a drinker's decision-making,' he says. 'The danger is that some people may mistakenly opt for a lower-calorie drink in the belief that it is healthier. They may also include alcohol, which has relatively few nutrients, within a calorie-controlled diet which could cause them health problems.'
Despite the presence of Helen McCallum, director of policy and communications at Which? - a consumer rights organisation that has been a vociferous critic of food and drink brands' marketing activities - the report takes the side of industry rather than that of the health lobbyists, on most of the contentious issues.
It supports daily guideline amounts, criticises the nutrient profiling system that governs what products can be advertised to children on TV - Lewis may well have spoken up here given that Unilever's Marmite brand falls
foul of the restrictions because of its high salt content - and has a dig at the old enemy, the Food Standards Agency.
Another proposal - one that received backing from Lansley - was keeping the voluntary regulation for advertising in place and extending the restrictions on advertising to children to digital media.
While there is much for marketers to commend in the report, it is clear that a future Conservative government should proceed cautiously before implementing the proposals or run the risk of ruffling some industry feathers.