Category Archives: Advertising

The Conundrum of Caving to the Food Industry in the Battle Against Obesity

I just wanted to bring your attention to an excellent piece by Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, in which she addresses the perilous slippery slope of appeasing the food industry and how that specifically impacts our fight against obesity.

He points out that all the research of calories in versus calories out, increasing exercise, cutting sodium, sugar, and fat, the problems with cutting physical activity from the daily routine of children, the abundant prevalence of fast food, and the cost of healthy, organic alternatives has been well and good – but that we are purposely avoiding and not addressing one of the biggest challenges in combating the increasing waistlines in America. The total avoidance of tackling head-on the way food is marketed, made, sold, and how quickly even healthcare organizations in need of a little extra cash may take a sponsorship or donation from a group directly contributing to many of the health issues that organization is tackling.

I know we live in a capitalist society. I know that the element most prized in this economic system is a competitive market and that supporters think private enterprise should be able to do whatever it likes in terms marketing and aggressive behavior towards consumers and that the individual is supposed to be able to make an independent choice. I also think that’s ridiculous. To assume that someone’s behavior is not influenced by the massive inundation of public messages, no matter how smart they are, disproves years of communication and sociological research. I always find it amusing when major corporations or businesses decry critics who say that advertising is harmful and misleading, when in fact most corporations and businesses are counting exactly on that – that the constant (and often subliminal, or in the least, very sly) messages they’re strategically slinging at us all the time are working their magic and ensuring that people will take the bait. As a critic of many advertising practices, a supporter of progressive paternalism (known to those on the opposite side of the aisle as a nanny state), and someone who has worked with people trying to change a range if disordered eating behaviors and poor nutrition habits, I found her piece particularly compelling and in agreement with her claim that the food industry has had plenty of time to prove itself trustworthy.

I think this line really sums it up: “When the history of the world’s attempt to address obesity is written, the greatest failure may be collaboration with and appeasement of the food industry. I expect history will look back with dismay on the celebration of baby steps industry takes (such as public–private partnerships with health organizations, “healthy eating” campaigns, and corporate social responsibility initiatives) while it fights viciously against meaningful change (such as limits on marketing, taxes on products such as sugared beverages, and regulation of nutritional labeling).”

Check it out.

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Social Media Continues to Make People Feel Bad About Themselves

A study out of the UK has found (as have others more than once), that use of social media sometimes doesn’t make you feel like…really socializing. Instead, it can make you feel anxious and depressed, which are more likely to make you feel withdrawn than anything else.

The study found that participants noted a drop in their own self-esteem after viewing the accomplishments of their Facebook friends. Combine this with the fact that 25% of them claimed to have had relationship issues due to online ‘confrontations’ (which could, of course, mean many things), that more than half were rendered uncomfortable when they couldn’t easily access their social media accounts, that other studies have claimed more socially aggressive (subtly termed ‘hateful’) folks use Facebook more often, that people often deliberately post bad pictures of their friends to make themselves look better and subsequently compare their weight, body size, and physical appearance to these friends, and that Facebook is cited in divorce proceedings as being problematic for couples, and you may be liable to think that this phenomenon offer little in the way of improving our lives.

A good thing to remember here, aside from the pretty remarkable things being done with social media in terms of education, research, medicine, and public health (this USC study is great news, and touches upon the influence of social networks in ways I’ve been exploring as it relates to substance use, sexual behavior, and disordered eating behaviors, and that other studies have shown the exact opposite in terms of emotional response, is that social media does allow users to tailor the perception and identity they project. Another recent study (I’ll try to find the URL for it!) showed, unsurprisingly, that what users often admire about their friends’ virtual lives is the positive sliver that their friends elect to promote about themselves.

Also encouragingly, those children and adolescents who will have known no life without social media, recently were surveyed about their use of technology and reported that they still preferred face-to-face communication. I put limits on myself in terms of use (though I’m sure to some of you it may not seem like it!) since I feel as though I miss a lot in terms of nuance when communication online, but it remains true that both my research and personal communication projects require a fairly consistent social media presence – I admit that I’m torn. As with most everything, balance is key, but how can we monitor our behavior in ways that allow us to strike that balance without teetering into territory that destroys our positive sense of self?

Thoughts? How about you ironically follow me on Twitter to discuss?

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Education, Health Education, Media, Technology

Wodka’s Sling at Sex Workers

In case you were interested in using vodka to measure the merits and statuses of sex workers, I’ll just leave this here…

This towering image is not only sitting in midtown Manhattan, but above the West Side Highway, greeting thousands of metro-area New Yorkers everyday. Wodka got in trouble last fall as well, for using a similar slogan over the holidays to peddle their wares (“Christmas Quality, Hannukah Pricing” the billboard proclaimed then).

I suppose they may be attempting to appeal to the element of class and discretion that those who patronize escort services may claim to value over what Wodka submits is the more debased act of individually seeking out sexual services from a ‘hooker’ (a word, by the way, that is pretty much on the way out). So, if you missed the subversive text here, Wodka appreciates your penny-pinching ways in soliciting the services of a prostitute on your own, but sees no issue in declassing a group of sex workers at the expense of others who they think market themselves better through a service (a service that does not, in fact, outrightly advertise prostitution). It’s all about branding! Wodka wants you to pay for what they see as the street corner lass, but be on the receiving end of pre-screened high-class.

We can get into the issue of women being trafficked into prostitution and escort services in a whole separate post, as well. Also, as an aside – what role does that sheep play in this? How can we deconstruct that?

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Shame Won’t Make You Healthy. Really.

Some of you public health and social marketing gurus have likely already come across the recent slew of ads in Georgia, published by an organization called Strong4Life, that are ostensibly part of an effort to curb childhood obesity. A lofty goal, indeed, but a misguided approach, the criticisms of which have already begun. The images are pictures of overweight and obese children with a variety of captions, including “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not,” and “Fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me,” and “Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.”

Shaming rarely works as a strategy for behavior change. It’s been shown in efforts ranging from drug use behavior to HIV-prevention goals and marketing campaigns. If you click on the images in the Strong4Life campaign you get taken to video spots of these children, who seem burdened by sadness and depression (which can be both causes of and side effects of being overweight – exacerbating these emotional states does not help in weight loss endeavors). Recognizing if one is at an unhealthy weight is an essential step towards healthy weight loss, but the children do not appear buoyed by information, support, and new ideas on ways to be healthy. They seem downtrodden and embarrassed, the very characteristics that a shaming and body-bullying culture easily pounce on and cultivate. The video of Bobby, which portrays a mother who appears shamed by her son’s question doesn’t make me want to hit the gym or eat a platter of vegetables. Instead, the voyeuristic quality of the mock confessions feels more than a bit exploitative and it triggers a gut reaction of sympathy and protectiveness, making me want to yank the camera from the hands of Strong4Life. It’s like they took a message from the Jillian Michaels’ school of adding insult to injury, splashing in an additional dose of fear and intimidation, and expecting that this will result in a lifelong substantial increase in meaningful self-esteem.

The well-developed criticisms of this campaign point out that not only does shaming and negative marketing not induce healthy behavior change, but that these ads do nothing educationally. One girl near-tearfully admits that she gets made fun of at school because she’s fat, and the video slams down a tag line of “being fat takes all the fun out of being a kid” before fading out. While the Strong4Life campaign has a “Get Started” tab offering facts about nutrition and screen time and physical activity, the impact of the original image has already been made. Advertising relies on quick one-liners, on stark imagery, and emotional reactions. In this case, what we see is a tag line reiterating that this girl is not a normal kid, a solitary image of an overweight girl connected to an emotional plea on her part of loneliness and victimization. It’s powerful all right, but not empowering. The ad emphasizes fat loss, heightening the importance placed on size, instead of cultivating an interest in healthy lifestyles and appreciation of the fact that people come in different sizes and can be equally healthy. Critics of the appreciation-of-all-sizes approach say it borders on supporting obesity, which I see as short-sighted. Very high weight status can certainly indicate other problems, like diabetes, early heart and respiratory problems, and difficulties engaging in physical activity. But it’s also essential to make sure that the message that larger sizes are universally unhealthy is quashed, and it’s vital to promote instead that appreciating people of all sizes is essential – and more importantly, that valuing people regardless of size is a priority. This is a topic that deserves that kind of nuance.  I would welcome ads that excitedly show kids engaging in active lifestyles, enjoying sports and enjoying healthy, full diets – creating characters in ads that viewers want to emulate, as opposed to characters that viewers are meant to distance themselves from or who are meant to be repelling, is not only good business sense but inclusive and supportive. These ads further emphasize and underscore the cultural norm categories of “normal weight kids are normal” and “overweight kids are not normal and therefore not ok” – this certainly won’t help curb teasing or bullying in this arena. And since we do know that consistent, positive social support is one of the key factors in healthy behavior change, it’s obvious why public health experts met this series with skepticism. And here’s what else we know – healthy lifestyle changes significantly decrease mortality, regardless of baseline body mass index. Changes in fitness level are what alter all-cause mortality, not changes in BMI.

The response that these ads are cultivating “important conversation” is somewhat moot. It may get people talking, and it hopefully it will encourage media platforms with a larger audience than this blog to come out with constructive, evidence-based, supportive tips and strategies for a healthy lifestyle – but the fact remains that these ads are contributing to the negative, body-shaming noise that fuels so much of popular media and it remains that the effect can be really damaging and counter-productive at the outset. Individuals who ultimately are successful at losing large amounts of unhealthy weight (or who more consistently use condoms, for example) do so not merely because someone called them fat (or because they knew someone who became infected with HIV) – this has happened many times over to individuals seeking or needing to enact behavior change. The change happens because they not only begin to see themselves as deserving of these changes, but also because they become helpfully informed with concrete action steps that help move them through behavior change, are supported and consistently cheered on, and because they know what to do if they feel themselves slipping.

The bottom line is that discussions about healthy living need to happen to prevent long-term chronic health problems, and these conversations do need to happen early. But they shouldn’t start with shaming, embarrassment, or the putting on display of children who have weight problems and asking them to broadcast what’s so horrible about it while telling them that their love of the buffet is what got them to this point. We can do better.

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Education, Health Education, Media

Ready for 2012?

I certainly am! In case you’re interested, here are some interesting stats for INTY for 2011:

Top Five Posts of the Year:

Good Riddance, Paterno

Duke Nukem – Seriously?

Beyonce – A Word

Yes, Summer’s Eve Has Bad Marketing. Oh, and the Product is Not Good for You

I Still Don’t Think Yoplait Gets It

An interesting mix, indeed! Check them out if you missed them. And for kicks, my favorite Google searches that brought people to my blog:

* “does summer’s eve cause yeast infections”

* “disney feather duster” (which brought them to the Billy Bush post)

* “self-image”

* “i think i’m a feminist” (yay!)

* “consent”

* “abortion”

* “feminism does not necessarily mean hating men”

* “equinox advertisements jealous” (which brought them here)

* “eating disorders”

* “miss usa”

* “eroticization of girls”

* “sexualization of girls”

* “sexualized advertising”

* “advertising desensitization”

* “advertising and behavior”

* “real housewives ignorant” (the RHOBH post did get a lot of comments)

* “gay stereotypes in reality television” (Zel’s guest post)

* “gender identity”

* “adolescent/human development”

* “mitch albom accept who you are and revel in it” (which took them here…showing Albom not reveling in it)

And some creepy and disturbing searches that hopefully led searchers to this blog and perhaps taught them something:

* “how to get any woman to drop her panties”

* “how do young girls get hotter”

* “funny rape jokes”

* “sexy women lying on train tracks”

* “in duke do you need to use the vibrator on the woman”

* “how to take a feminist down a peg”

* “how to take a woman down a peg”

Well, that about sums it up! Looking forward to many more conversations in the upcoming year!

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Education, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Health Education, Media, Politics, Pop Culture, Public Health, Rape and Sexual Assault, Sexism, Violence, Violence Against Women

Happy Thanksgiving!

This holiday card is courtesy of my friend Zel McCarthy. I’ll let it marinate for a bit.

This most obvious example of equating women to objects of consumption tries to downplay the offense by making the image as absurd as possible, and by utilizing the tag lines popular culture women’s magazines to give the viewer a chuckle. By sexualizing the meat, and by sexualizing it in a distinctly feminine way, both women and animals get to be conquered and devoured! Women are downgraded to turkeys, and turkeys are eaten. What I think is particularly interesting about the decision to put the feminized turkey on the cover of the magazine is how the image then also gets to denigrate the element of women that our culture has deemed most important – trying to stay “hot and moist” [shudder], the best ways to look “delicious” [you want to look so attractive that others just can’t resist gnawing on you], the “must have” items of the moment [because consumerism is such a female issue?] and of course, most vitally, the breasts – the most important part of a woman AND a turkey.

Of course, the emphasis on looks is something that I often disparage about “women’s” magazines, and obviously consider to be dangerous and harmful. However. This turkey ad is mocking these headlines not because they are offensive or denigrating to women, which they are – they are mocking them simply because they are female, because they have taken the spotlight as the primary female concerns of our culture, and the ad gets to make it look like women are both ridiculous for buying into these themes, while also promoting them by creating an object of appeal based on these themes. It’s as though they’re saying “women are so silly for promoting themselves sexually, for focusing on hotness and perkiness and the need to appear deliciously irresistible” while also saying “look at how hot and sexy and perky this lady turkey is – so hot and sexy and perky that she’s simply irresistible.”

Generally, we separate the meat we’re eating from its former ‘self’, the animal, otherwise there would be more difficulty in consuming meat with such regularity and frequency. Interestingly, when the meat anthropomorphized into the form of a woman, it remains marketable – women are routinely objectified, and also are separated from their self and human identity in doing so. Combining two beings, a turkey and a woman, that are both customarily presented as being without a meaningful character and for the viewer or eater’s pleasure, makes this card seem totally acceptable for raking in some holiday profits (apparently).

If you’re interested in reading more about the connection between the treatment of animals and feminism, and the real foundation for the point I just made, I recommend the work of Carol Adams. Her books, The Sexual Politics of Meat and The Pornography of Meat are great works, and even if you aren’t interested in animal rights or vegetarianism and how one might relate them to feminism, the books do a great job of dissecting the overlap of social and political issues around the processing of meat for consumption, the treatment of women, and the advertising of both.

For real: Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all have a great holiday!

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Filed under Advertising, Defining Gender, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, Media, Sexism

Thanks, KMart

…for making sure I didn’t actually take a few days off this holiday week!

What a charming little undergarment you were planning on selling to the masses this Black Friday:

Courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald

Every 7 year-old girl needs a thong (like, I could end the sentence there!), an article of clothing designed for the sole purpose of sexually exciting others, that also broadcasts to the world that they’re diggin’ for gold before they’re even old enough to have a checking account of their own.

The perfect holiday gift for your first grader. The message that baring their buns will be rewarded with a wealthy partner. Cheers! And happy holidaze.

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Feminism, Sexism