I've never been easily swayed by advertising. I can't think of anything I own that I bought because I saw an ad for it. That's especially true with food ads. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a commercial and then felt compelled to amend the grocery list for that week. Like most of us, in my foraging, I look for what’s on sale.
That’s why I think the only food ads on tv should be for places that deliver. Otherwise, we can kinda figure out what foods to buy on our own. Why advertise something like mayonnaise when anybody who wants mayonnaise can probably find mayonnaise when they go to the store.
And I don’t imagine many people are swayed by an ad to switch brands of mayo just because of an ad – “Hey, darling – did you notice this other brand when you were at the market? Why the hell are we eating Best Foods? Why didn’t you tell me there were other options?”
The first food ads were no doubt elaborate cave drawings meant to say things like “Og kill extra big bear. Many pieces available. Put on fire for you. Act now. When glowing orb in sky come for third time, meat gone.”
Then of course, in the Middle Ages, you would probably see hand written flyers saying things like “Get thine mutton here! Our mutton has beene worm-free for a fortnight!”
Even as late as the past century, food advertising was at least honest, by virtue of its simplicity:
It tells you where to get it, how much of it you get, and how much it costs. The main difference in ads today is the emphasis on what isn’t in the package – No Transfats! Zero cholesterol! Fifty percent less enzyme-modified hyperpolyunsaturated thiamine mononitrate than other brands! I just think that, in the past, there was a little more emphasis on what was inside the box.
The worst part of most food ads is the slogan, a particularly insidious species of earworm that can stick to your brain worse than the hook from a Hall and Oates song. So many of these are stuck in my mind that I can’t walk through the grocery store without one of them bubbling up from the depths (incidentally, the Bubble-Up slogan was “A Kiss of Lemon, A Kiss of Lime.” Seriously, I wish I didn’t know these things).
The understated slogans work best for me, like Campbell’s “Soup is good food.” That’s perfect! No made-up words, no miraculous claims, no CGI. What is it? Food. Is it good? Yeah. It’s safe to say that soup is, in a general sense, good food. And that’s all I need to know.
Or the classic, yet informative Velveeta slogan: “Colby, Swiss and Cheddar, blended all together.” Of course, listing ingredients doesn’t work for a lot of processed foods, because it’s hard to come up with clever rhymes for ‘pyridoxene hydrochloride.’
If you have a good product, you should be able to come up with a catchy slogan pretty easily. Instead, I’d like to be the guy who comes up with slogans for the kinds of foods I’ve had to buy when I’ve been broke. Like,
“It’s As Good As You’d Expect For A Dollar!” or
“It Sure Looks Like Salmon!” or
“Better Than Not Eating At All!”
I hope that when I become a world-renowned satirical food essayist (maybe I already am – how many of us can there be), I’ll get the chance to be a spokesman for something cooking-related.
“How many times have you been baffled by food-processors that have just too many functions? That’s why I’m proud to endorse the KitchenAid One-Button Mixer. No manual to read, no dials or attachments to decipher, just one big grey button! The patented ‘blade’ cuts vegetables really small, for all the times I need really small pieces of vegetables!”
I’m also thinking that for the next thing I write, I want sponsors. I’m gonna sell ad space right there in my book. If Frito-Lay wants to underwrite my next book with a few half-page ads for Ruffles, why not? Or better yet, Nutella. They could even pay me in jars of Nutella.
Who am I kidding? For the right amount of money, I’d wear a giant hazelnut costume and sing their slogan. Which, if you’re curious, is “Che mondo sarebbe senza Nutella?,” or “What would the world be without Nutella?” What, indeed?