You may have already seen this – it ran in the New York Times two weeks ago – but I just loved the gist of this article too much to not share. “Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover” challenges ad companies to come up with advertizing strategies normally used for cookies and junk food to ‘makeover’ commonly unpopular vegetables and contribute toward healthier diets.
The way the ad people go about defining and re-defining their product is actually really fascinating, and the article is ridiculously entertaining in its own right (“The team had also asked that same crowd to write tombstone epitaphs for broccoli, as a way of eliciting possible tender feelings toward the product. The results weren’t especially heartwarming. “Goodbye, poor friend,” read one. “I hardly spent time with you, mainly because I didn’t like you.”“), but it opens up a much larger debate on how certain products – especially produce – are perceived by the general public, and how much advertizement has to do with that. I also loved that they had an accompanying video showcasing the creative process that went into it. I used to be very critical of marketing, but seeing this makes me remember that these are just tools that could be used for ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (of course, how you define this is the second question).
The article goes on to discuss whether the exclusive focus on ‘health’ as an incentive to eat fruits and vegetables is flawed if you want to get people to eat more of them, since intuitively we don’t often associate ‘health’ with ‘best taste’, but rather as this trade-off: as one of the marketers in the video said, too often the idea is “Eat your broccoli and you can do awesome things.” What about making eating broccoli the awesome thing?
Yet, increasing demand is only part of the puzzle, as author Michael Moss points out; growing more fruits and vegetables is also a financial challenge for farmers, especially if they consider the opportunity costs of being able to grow corn or soybeans on the same land instead, which require less labor and qualify for more subsidies. Nationwide in the United States, “ninety-seven million acres are planted with corn that goes toward syrup, cattle feed and ethanol, compared with the 240,000 acres planted for spinach, broccoli and cabbage.” As we just saw, this is similar to the global situation – vegetables only account for a measly 1% of the world’s agricultural area according to the FAO. However, growing more would also bring the prices down for consumers, making a healthy diet more affordable. But you’d also have to make it worth it for producers: as one of the interviewed farmers points out: “But I always tell my employees: ‘Don’t fall in love with vegetables. It’s a business.’ I would like to see more broccoli grown, because it’s good for us but not really as a farmer.”
In any case, this is an extremely informative and entertaining read, so please check it out!
The best part: The Times challenged readers to come up with their own fictitious veggie campaigns, and greatness ensued (they even made more fictitious posters!). Some of my favorite slogans:
Get caught red-handed.
Cauliflower is the Charlemagne of crucifers.
and of course
Beets turn your pee a beautiful shade of pink.
Now who wouldn’t want to indulge in their veggies after knowing that?