Monday, May 6, 2013

Well Ployed

Marketing is a unique field. It's the only profession in which the idea is to create an interest in something which people probably wouldn't be very interested in otherwise. Hyping something with such statements as "Hurry! This offer won't last long!" are time-honored devices used to deflect attention away from the fact that the lemon peeler you so desperately crave has been on the market for at least a hundred years.

I really hate it when businesses manipulate consumers, and yet I also realize that a little manipulation is necessary for a big business to attract attention to a new innovation -an electric lemon peeler, for instance.

Last week I was in a supermarket close to my home. Traipsing past the cookies I can no longer eat due to my new diet, I decided on a small box of crackers. You know how off-brands don't usually display a lot of art on their containers? The generic brand I chose features baked, golden brown cheddar crackers generously displayed at the top of the box for your toothsome pleasure. Not only were those palatable wonders of mass production boldly displayed in the foreground ("enlarged to show detail" according to the box), the salty squares featured four young people literally blazing a sprinting trail through a grain crop of unknown locale. It's interesting that the marketing firm chose to run a photo of kids rather than older folks. That makes sense, since the sodium level in a single box of the things could drop a middle-aged bull elephant with a stroke. I'm not quite sure what the message is in the picture. First of all, they're running away from the camera. Maybe they work for the marketing firm, and didn't want to be implicated by the rather misleading message conveyed by their graphics which must be, "youth and sodium: only we could eat this much salt and have a foot race through an uncultivated field".

And the amount of servings -thirteen squares of crackers-  contain thirteen crackers each. That's approximately 5,330 milligrams of sodium per carton, which probably explains all this ringing in my ears business. The tag line on the carton reads, "FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOURS". The last time anyone sent a message like that, it led to a feud which lasted twenty-eight years. Seriously, I'd have been content to read something on the box like "NOT VERY HEALTHY, BUT WHO CARES? YOU'RE BUYING THESE FOR THE FLAVOR".

I think the thing which has me shaking my head the most is that the marketers attempt to associate the product with being active. Turning the box to the back, one reads that "adventures await just outside your door!" Mentioned are trips to the zoo, nature trails, and street fairs. If I were to eat more than ten of these treats, the next adventure awaiting me would involve an ambulance and a syringe of adrenaline. One of the more bizarre photos included among the zoo, museum, and library, is a stack of chocolate chip cookies. The whole thing seems rather schizophrenic to me. On one hand, associations between consuming the product and being active are prominently displayed. On the other hand, cookies don't seem to fit in well with that relationship. I'm fifty-two and I can honestly say I have yet to hear someone utter, "hey Ned -can you pass the cheese and cookies?"

I like the crackers. Given my diet, however, I have to decrease my serving intake per day. I can promise you this: as soon as I slim down a few pounds from consuming fewer of them, I'll gladly hit the nature trail.

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