Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another Inconvenient Truth

Since much of my recent thoughts have revolved around two growing porteñas whom I adore very much, Gabriela and Maria-Paula, I have taken a fresh and more serious look at how advertisements affect our decisions as consumers.

For quite some time now, I have been feeling particularly uncomfortable about two television advertisements aired on various local channels during the "family hours". Each advertisement targets the mother, the individual with decision making power as to what food is purchased and consumed by her family, especially her children.

The first is a dairy product by La Serenissima named Cremix. It is an overly sweetened yoghurt artificially flavoured with vanillin and made with an extra dose or two of emulsifier to make it thick and creamy; hence the name which conjures up idea of lush creaminess.

The prime time advertisement shows an actor being portrayed as a "yoghurt expert" asking volunteers to taste-test Cremix, the yoghurt in question. An actress playing a mother, with her DNI number showing on screen, testifies that Cremix is indeed extremely creamy, tasty, blah, blah, blah... Then the camera zooms in on her children, played by a very cute bunch of child actors, who also tasted the yoghurt and proceeded to sing its praises too.

This is what is termed, within the advertising industry, as "testimonial selling" which is based on the dubious but effective belief that when someone, anyone, seemingly objective and unrelated to the producer of the product, tells you the product is good, it's got to be good because that's the "truth".

This Cremix advertisement has been denounced by an advertising professional in his article Esto es verdad, written for Clarín (a major local newspaper), as lacking in creativity and credibility. However, Cremix remains one of the best selling yoghurts.

The second advertisement is a lot more creepy in the sense that it tries to send a subliminal and "aspirational" message to consumers by portraying a happy, healthy, good looking family at dinner time but something seemed lacking until Patyviena hotdog sausages were served. Coincidentally, hotdog sausages contain no small amount of additives, colouring and non-meat substances including milk allergens. Well, reconstituted mystery meat for dinner anyone?

Consumers seldom think too deeply about advertisements, especially in the evenings, after a long day's work. It is precisely this lack of awareness in self-defense the advertisers are exploiting with great success.

Across the ocean, a journalist at Sydney Morning Herald has similar issues with Cottees, a cordial manufacturer over there. Their devious advertisement campaign runs with the tag line: "Kids need water. Cottee's makes it fun."

No claims have actually been made that their sugary cordial is healthy, while implying it all the same because drinking water is considered a healthy practice. By any standard, sugar and colouring laden cordial is junk food. This offending cordial which appears in the ad, contains only 1 per cent concentrated apple juice. Other ingredients include sugar, citric acid, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulphite and tartrazine.

When made up according to the instructions, a metric cup of Cottee's "fun water" would contain 19.8 grams of sugar, not that much less than Coke, which has 26.5 grams of sugar in a metric cup. If a child had got half his/her daily recommended water intake from cordial, he/she would have consumed nearly 2½ kilograms of sugar in a month.

This completely warped logic, shamelessly sold to us by advertisers, reminds me of a huge billboard ad I saw once, on the way into Buenos Aires city from the airport, which said "We need energy. Have sugar".

During my 18 months in Buenos Aires, I have met more skeptics of sound dietary choices than I had in my entire life up till my arrival in this city. The usual line of dismissal was that in order to enjoy life disfrutar la vida, one must eat fat laden milanesas (also see photo) often and feel free to consume out of gluttony; this rationale employs the same logic as "you only live once".

These people would never fathom that I enjoy life very much - I only live once so it makes perfect sense to live it smarter.

While we are on the subject of what to feed children, I have stumbled upon a fantastic website and blog aptly named www.wholesomebabyfood.com. One of their brilliant posts on introducing solid food to babies means I'd never have to buy into those dubious licensed nutritionists' advice on food allergies or feeding babies sugar, butter, etc.

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