Three different advertisements “crossed my desk” last week, all for different products, yet sharing an eerie similarity of purpose and theme. I’m sure it will become evident soon enough, so no spoilers-let’s introduce the first contestant, shall we?
“Wow, it looks amazing! All that fresh fruit lying around on the weathered picnic table really makes me think of camping, weekends, and shopping for antiques in small towns. How about you?” Oh, wait…it’s from McDonald’s, isn’t it? So it probably doesn’t actually look like that, huh? Probably more like this:
There’s the plastic tray and spoon and the placemat advertisement-much more plausible. Kind of soupy-looking, too. That’s okay, though-I’m sure it’s super-healthy, right? Well, it’s maybe about so-so. The cost, though…suggested at $1.99, it’s roughly what I’d pay for two pounds of organic rolled oats at the Co-Op. Of course, this is a classic trade of money for time and effort; the customer is not paying so much for the oatmeal and fruit, but for someone else to cook and serve it to them. It’s a microcosm of a larger trend, a shift in energy use from the home to the producers and manufacturers. It also marks another step in the shift from self-sufficiency to dependency. If we can’t even make oatmeal for ourselves in the morning, where are we? I shudder to think of what we’ll pay to have done for us next.
Naturally, there’s a subtext to this ad campaign:
It’s a teaser to get people in the door (or drive-through line). And, when you’re there, maybe you’ll-I’m not sure how this works-get some fries and a Filet-O-Fish with your breakfast? Switch over to lunch and have a couple of burgers? I’ll have to contemplate this further.
The copy on this flier is troublesome as well. The front copy implies that oatmeal is inherently non-delicious; the back copy seems to assert that wholesome foods aren’t naturally tasty and vice-versa. Personally, I find both assertions ridiculous, but perhaps that’s because I still cook actual food from real ingredients. The claims are especially ironic considering how much time and effort food manufacturers have invested in trying to simulate the flavors of real food in their products. Having been reading Paul Roberts’ excellent account of the development of the “value-added” food industry, and having been rediscovering the excellent quality and flavor of honest, fresh food, I frankly take some offense at the implication.
UPDATE: Mark Bittman of The New York Times largely concurs with my assessment. Not that I’m feeling smug or anything.
NEXT: A “NATURAL SURPRISE”?