Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

That's Cynical

Thanks--sort of--to Twisty for the heads-up on Lay's new advertising campaign. The ad itself is insulting to women. As a psychologist, however, I'm also interested in this neuro-marketing stuff in the New York Times article.

In brief, it seems that women snack a lot, but "61 percent of [our] snacking includes drinks, fruits and vegetables". Stuff that's good for us, in other words. Frito-Lay wants to convince us that we should be eating unhealthy stuff--like their "salty snacks". No surprise there: We know marketers exist to convince us to buy things we don't need, right? But this is so cynical, and so obviously bad for us, that it blew my mind.

According to the Times:

Neurology used for advertising purposes, called neuromarketing, has gained a following among some marketers. Many use it to test their ads, using research firms . . . to show an ad to consumers and see the level of brain response.

One firm "began by researching how women’s brains compared with men’s, so the firm could adjust the marketing accordingly." That is cynical. Worse, it's pop neurology, grossly oversimplifying the research findings. The marketer in question assumes that because

the communication center in women’s brains was more developed . . . women could process ads with more complexity and more pieces of information.

A memory and emotional center, the hippocampus, was proportionally larger in women, so [Marketer] concluded that women would look for characters they could empathize with.

And research [Marketer] read linked the anterior cingulate cortex, which processes decision-making and was larger in women, to feelings of guilt.

Not to repeat myself or anything, but this is a gross over-simplification of the findings. Even if it weren't, I'm not sure how I feel about the ethics involved in using science to people's (women's!) detriment in this way.

Women, as the marketer noted, feel guilty about a lot. One of the things the culture teaches us is to look at what we eat as a moral issue. There are "good" foods and "bad"; on a given day, depending on what we've eaten, we've been "good" or "bad." Some foods are downright "sinful"! When we're not blowing them, we follow our diets "religiously." We see our self-control as a matter of character, of will. So Frito-Lay set out to reframe junk food so as not to "trip [our] guilt."

Part of the strategy was . . . toning down the packaging and showing off healthy ingredients in the snacks.

“She wants a reminder that she’s eating something better for her,” [Marketer] said.

Even thought she isn't.

Baked Lay’s will no longer be in a shiny yellow bag, but in a matte beige bag that displays pictures of the ingredients like spices or ranch dressing. Some of the new Frito-Lay packaging is in stores already.

. . . the packages trumpet characteristics like fiber and calcium and show ingredients like wheat or almonds.

Now that's cynical.

Amazingly, given that we supposedly can handle more complex material, they have developed an ad campaign that involves a bunch of female air-heads kvetching about their diets, their men, and so forth in nasal tones at the upper end of the register. I, for one, find these "characters" hard to identify with. And to add to the irony, the Marketer muses that it's obvious that we are offended by pink packages or prominently featuring the calorie counts: She completely misses how insulted we would be by an attempt to get us to eat crap by giving us a bunch of pornulated airheads to "identify with."

A sample of the print version of the ad follows:

. . . two women are surveying a Baked Lay’s bag. “These things are the best invention since the push-up bra,” one woman says. The other, admiring her bra-enhanced chest, responds, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

Now that's insulting!

And that's it for me and Frito-Lay. We're done.

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