After a MapMyRun jog last week, a Houlihan’s ad pop up promoting their Inspiralized Menu. I follow the trend toward healthier menus and food labeling transparency, so I tweeted about the ad from a marketing angle, not intending to promote the restaurant. The Houlihan’s social team picked up my post, took it as a compliment (which it really was), and mailed me a $25 gift card.
Updated follow-up to Part 1 about cereal games: Over the years I have tweeted and posted multiple complaints about the garbage in food that’s advertised as healthy. Part 1 originally linked to a Kellogg’s Cereal landing page encouraging activity (no longer available). Homepages for Froot Loops and Apple Jacks had pop-up messages urging kids to get outside and move around. The Frosted Flakes website was a big proponent of outdoor activity and sports participation:
You see the same messaging on tons of food products. Hypocrisy rules grocery shelves. This hackneyed pro-exercise/health stance and the call-outs about vitamins and whole grain on boxes is ridiculous at best and criminal at worst considering the processed ingredients, added and artificial sweeteners, and chemical preservatives that these nutritionally devoid “foods” contain. That cereal nutrition facts have a second column for the addition of dairy milk to make it a “complete breakfast” is a problem.
Breakfast health poser brands like Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Post tout nutrients and a healthy start to the day. Aside from government regulation (see FTC response to the Kellogg’s immunity claim), what would it take on a consumer level to make such brands replace their GMO ingredients, partially hydrogenated oils (see Cocoa Krispies ingredients), and modified corn starch with natural ingredients? You can find organic cereal brands like Lydia’s Organics, Farm to Table, Go Raw, etc. who do this, make better products, and still profit. Just not as much. And unfortunately that’s the deciding factor. But despite media exposés, documentaries and books galore about our food problems, the grocery landscape is wrought with more confusing, misleading messaging than ever.
Eat whatever you want. I’m not here on a granola crusade. Actually, I’m more interested in the larger question of selective consumer awareness and empowerment.
Society has spent decades scapegoating, punishing, and regulating the tobacco industry for its seductive marketing of addictive, cancer-causing products. How have agribusiness and food conglomerates escaped anywhere near the widespread, research-backed, trenchant criticism for the role they play in our nation’s health problems? In 2012, more than one-third of U.S. children and adolescents were overweight or obese (CDC). I barely scratched the surface talking about unhealthy cereal that is marketed as healthy. The convoluted mess that is FDA labeling regulation for terms like natural, organic, free range, etc. creates a false advertising field day.
There’s nothing automatically wrong with selling most unhealthy products as long as the consumer is fairly informed. Tobacco, alcohol, fast food, soda pop, hot dogs at baseball games, sugary bubblegum, you name it – we deserve the right to choose to indulge. But food brands and marketers need to take more responsibility when it comes to product positioning. The misinformation about what’s actually healthy is more expensive than consumers understand.
To wrap up:
Part 1: Good: a return to simplicity and creativity – kids cutting out cardboard shapes (see the Lucky Charms game).
Part 2: Bad: food brands that position themselves with health and physical activity but contain nefarious foodstuff (not food) ingredients while making claims about good nutrition.
What will force change? Maybe consumer awareness is already improving. Social helps. See Bettina Siegel’s petition on change.org which helped to remove pink slime (LFTB from Beef Products Inc.) from school lunches across the country.
Our apples are being jacked.
Expand your customer base to form lifelong brand loyalists, increasing average selling price and frequency by decreasing price sensitivity while garnering evangelists to promote your brand through word of mouth. That’s the goal of marketing.
I started playing My Coke Rewards in December 2007. I usually enter codes for 2 liter bottles of pop (worth 3 points) or 12 pack cans (9 points). After almost five years, I have about 1,050 points. I don’t cheat or buy codes online. (Yes, there is a black market for Coke Rewards codes. Much like property swapping during the McDonald’s Monopoly game.)
I’ve amassed my points organically. I keep playing because I’m a consumer who has been gamed, because I expect a great prize when I reach a high point level, and because Coke accomplished their goal: I am more engaged in the brand and spend more time on their site. Continue reading Gamification: I Ain’t Mad At Cha, Coke
About a year ago, I discovered a Kroger brand cereal called Shining Stars. This cereal is to the breakfast aisle as Hello Dolly is to WordPress plugins. (The hope of a generation, if you will.) The mascots of the Lucky Charms-esque cherry vanilla flavored oat cereal are three teenage girls in a band called the Shining Stars. They are dressed pretty conservatively compared to Miley Cyrus. I think they write their own songs.
Singer Star Sparkle is wearing a high plaid turtleneck and braces. The African American drummer, Cherry Berry, has afro pigtails. Awkward but cute guitarist Nilla Crunch has red hair and glasses (she is the emo one).
I was so impressed by the positive, inspirational messages this branding sends to little girls that I had to continue buying Shining Stars and write this blog post commending the cereal. Unlike Bratz, these musical girls are actual role models for kids. The Shining Stars are confident and independent, talented enough that they don’t need to objectify themselves and show a lot of skin. If Star Sparkle can get a record contract in that getup, there is hope for meritocracy yet.
The free prize inside the box is Shining Stars temporary tattoos:
You might say Kroger has won me over as a brand advocate for this product. Apparently Kroger also did a bit of well-executed pink ribbon marketing with bottled water.
“Because the packaging on water cases is so big, it enables long-form stories that also serve to honor the courage of Kroger employees. You couldn’t do the same on a can of soup.” via @SallieBurnett
“We’ve got Social Media covered” is a common (problematic) sentiment among many businesses. Having someone haphazardly post on Facebook is just not enough. However, that’s not to say that hiring an agency beats assigning the task to someone internal. Anything can still go wrong- that is the scary and challenging beauty of where marketing has arrived. There is something to be said for the positive effects of giving employees in an organization a voice about what they know best- their product. I’ve read a few articles lately stressing the importance of reminding everyone on board that they represent their brand in every customer interaction (isn’t that a given?). Alexis Karlin’s post “Are Brands Socially Disconnected” illustrates the point that whether or not you have the sweetest tweeter money can buy, a company is still only as strong as its weakest link. See a related line from poynter.com coverage of recent NY Times elimination of Jennifer Preston’s social media editor position:
“Social media can’t belong to one person; it needs to be part of everyone’s job,” Preston said. “It has to be integrated into the existing editorial process and production process. I’m convinced that’s the only way we’re going to crack the engagement nut.”
Maybe it will take another ten years for SM fluency (operational definition: basic familiarity and proficiency/absence of Twitter xenophobia) to be an assumed prerequisite for being hired, like Outlook or Excel skills are today. Granted, even in 2020, what an agency or external SM strategy consultant will provide on top of this general SM literacy should still be, theoretically, expansive and singular. I.e., worthwhile.
Picture this: A mobile, portable device for employees, installed on most employees’ desks (assuming physical office presence is still quotidian in the future). “Installed” is too physical a word. Let’s say projected, beamed, holographically produced when relevant. Everyone follows the company on the future equivalent of Twitter (which will be far more customizable and include secure gateways and a totally evolved hashtag methodology that surpasses even Google’s instant predictive search). People from all departments use this tool to communicate to each other and/or to customers when appropriate. In fact, if you think you can invent this tool now, please contact me about our startup- @emilybinder