Who were the people in the focus groups who told advertisers that they really love the word “snack?” This freaking word is being used and used and used and used, snapped out of the spokespersons’ mouths as precisely and repeatedly as possible. “Snack. Snack snack snack snack snack.” It’s driving me mad, the way Hobbes’s repetition of “smock” did Calvin. “When kids love a ‘snack,’ you know it.” “With ice-cold skim milk, it’s a healthy ‘snack’ that….” “Don’t let your ‘snacks’ define you.” “I just need a ‘snack!’ Just a healthy….” ARGH! STOP SAYING SNACK!
That last quote, incidentally, is from a Soy Joy ad, and Soy Joy is leading a spate of new products, in which health food is marketed to look as unappetizing as possible. Soy Joy ads feature bland women speaking to a webcam about how annoyed they are by tasty, appetizing food, and how they just want something all-natural and boring. And then the Soy Joy bar is pictured, looking like a beige wad of masking tape. I don’t get this new health-food pitch. If you want to market healthy foods, you have to make the health food look really appealing (or at least make the people eating it look glamorous, wealthy and thin), not show it looking utterly boring next to really appealing foods.
There’s some ad – I think it’s for a Special K red vitamin water, but I can’t really remember – where these people at a meeting get a tray of frapuccinos, and this girl declines her frapuccino in favor of a bottle of red water. But they make the frapuccinos look utterly delicious! They’re all perfect and chocolaty, with the whipped cream and sprinkles puffy and attractive, and with perky purple straws. And the vitamin water looks like hell next to them; the ad leaves me very depressed and really craving a frapuccino. If you’re going to do an ad like that, you have to make the frapuccinos look all melted and sticky and syrupy and gross, and have a bunch of fat, ugly, sad office drones sucking them down noisily. And then you make the red water look refreshing and clean, and have some chic girl in a nice dress at a futuristically pristine desk pouring it into a fluted glass, and when she takes a sip, giant animated strawberries in a stream of crystal water splash around her thin, perfect calves. That’s how you make people want to drink your crappy vitamin water. Like that ad for a water I can’t remember, where a bitchy-looking anorexic teenager is utterly nauseated by a nasty old lunch-lady displaying vat after vat of fried, gray food, and so the skinny teenager jumps into a giant bottle of the water and curls into the fetal position (“find your refuge,” says the voiceover). The ad makes you realize that food is a disgusting thing from which you must escape, and only giant pigs would be interested in it. All the desirable, young people just drink water. See? Effective.
Another ad in this category is the A&W root beer float ad, in which a boy drinks a plain-looking root beer float, and says something like, ‘Isn’t this better than a jamocha-chip mint-frizzle frappe-whoo-ha thing?’ where he points at his friend, who is drinking THE COOLEST LOOKING DRINK I’VE EVER SEEN. You’re meant to think the friend’s drink looks absurd and overly perplexing next to the boring old root beer float, but the friend’s drink has whipped cream and sprinkles and a curly straw, and all I can think is, ‘where can I get one of those?!’ The root beer float drinker goes on to talk about how his float is really American (read: dull as nails and utterly unchallenging). Which is funny because, other than that whole let’s-not-buy-anything-French craze back when Chirac didn’t want to support the Iraq invasion, I didn’t realize that even the most apple-pie neocons required all of their foods to somehow be labeled “American.” Cars or T-shirts, maybe…but food? I don’t think anyone really wants to live on hot dogs and processed cheese, but if they do, I guess they can wash them down with root beer.
Incidentally, a lot of food companies apparently really think that viewers will empathize with their utter disdain for the lengthy names of Starbucks milkshakes. That whole ‘jamocha-chip-frizzle’ riff is in a lot of ads now (including one of the Soy Joy ads, in fact). Somebody somewhere decided that this was advertising gold. And granted, the long names are a little silly, but I don’t really think American consumers are losing sleep because of mocha chip frapuccino-generated rage quite at the rate advertisers seem to think they are.
And along with this, who decided that a really great way to tap into American food-based alienation was to repeat variations on ‘if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it’? This sentiment is always put forth as if it were sheer, undeniable common sense: “why on Earth would you be so insane as to eat something if you can’t pronounce all of the ingredients?”
What? Do people really hold up a box of cereal and worry about the fact that they can’t orally recite the ingredient list? And if that is the case, shouldn’t children, who can’t read or pronounce anything at all, be denied all food? Health-food makers are declaring this all over the place lately; from a Soy Joy ad, to the copy on the back of my box of Back to Nature crackers (and now that I think about it, in the same A&W ad just under discussion), I’m told that if I am too stupid to parse out a multi-syllabic word, then I ought to stick to foods that won’t attempt to challenge me in this way. Really, I’d love to see all advertising continue along in this vein: ‘If you can’t pronounce it, why would you upload it to your hard drive?’ ‘If you’ve never tried it before, why would you go near it now?’ ‘If you’ve never been to a country, why would you use any product from there?’ And so forth.