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Ad of the Day: MSG maker admits creating absurdist #CancelPizza social stunt

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By Audrey Kemp | LA reporter

August 10, 2023 | 9 min read

A TikTok smear campaign turned out to be a guerilla marketing stunt in disguise, designed to debunk myths about monosodium glutamate.

a man picketing against msg in the street

A man appears to picket against pizza and MSG / Credit: Ajinomoto

Just two weeks after a ridiculous #CancelPizza movement took over TikTok, Ajinomoto, a US supplier of monosodium glutamate (MSG), admitted on Wednesday to being behind the stunt.

According to Ajinomoto, #CancelPizza is part of an ongoing effort to tackle misinformation and dispel the stigma around MSG, which is often added to various Asian dishes, fast food and consumer packaged goods to enhance flavors.

Over the decades, MSG has developed a negative reputation, from it allegedly causing headaches, obesity, the so-called ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ and other health-related concerns. Today, many of these concerns are said to be inaccurate, outdated and rooted in racism.

“What makes pizza so delicious is the inherent presence of MSG in many of its most beloved toppings,“ said Tia M Rains, vice-president of science, innovation and corporate affairs at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition, North America. “As many consumers already know, there are decades of scientific evidence to support the safety of MSG, so we launched this campaign as a way to show that continuing to cancel MSG is as silly as calling to cancel pizza.“

Here’s how the #CancelPizza campaign started. On July 24, actor Tyler Coleman took to TikTok to launch a crazed, red-string theory campaign, in which he discovers that MSG naturally occurs in pizza ingredients and calls for the cancellation of pizza.

@cancelpizza the #CANCELPIZZA movement starts NOW! MSG is in your favorite toppings so pizza MUST be canceled!! link in bio to sign the petition ✍️ #ScienceTok #Science #Knowledge #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #ScienceFacts #ScienceTikTok #FoodScience #Pizza #PizzaTime #LearnOnTikTok #msg #monosodiumglutamate #themoreyouknow ♬ Ambient BGM Creepy, disturbing, strange(1141259) - DaikixCousin

This followed a string of more ridiculous content, with a trove of influencers, scientists and nutritionists fanning the flames. Throughout the campaign, #CancelPizza inadvertently dispels myths about MSG and educates consumers about MSG’s ubiquity in everyday foods.

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Following its launch, #CancelPizza picked up serious traction on TikTok, with over 10m views of the hashtag. At press time, the total video content reached over 27 million people across For You Pages (FYPs) in the US.

By August 9, everything made a little more sense when Ajinomoto came forward in a TikTok video and admitted to being behind the content.

@cancelpizza tbh I love pizza. see why me and @KnowMSG launched #CANCELPIZZA. link in bio. #KnowMSG #facts #Science #pizzalovers #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #ScienceFacts #ScienceTikTok #FoodScience #Pizza #PizzaTime #LearnOnTikTok #msg #monosodiumglutamate ♬ original sound - Cancel Pizza

The campaign was ideated and developed with creative agency Edelman, which has been working with Ajinomoto for the past five years on various campaigns, from #RedefineCSR and #DinnerWithGoop to #TakeOutHate, to fight the stigma against MSG.

“This campaign is a little wild, but if we want facts and science to spread at the speed of misinformation, we’re gonna have to try new things,“ Jesse Suchmann, executive vice-president and executive creative director at Edelman, told The Drum.

Below is a timeline Ajinomoto created that showcases America’s complicated history with MSG:

msg timeline graphic

Credits:

Creative agency: Edelman

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