Tag Archives: Food Marketing

Just because it says it’s healthy, doesn’t mean it is .

iStock_000003492931SmallPretty simple concept, isn’t it? Or at least it should be. But food marketers are well aware that minds can be swayed in a particular direction with the use of some very simple language.

Health-related buzzwords, such as “antioxidant,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain,” lull consumers into thinking packaged food products labeled with those words are healthier than they actually are, according to a new research study conducted by scholars at the University of Houston (UH).

That “false sense of health,” as well as a failure to understand the information presented in nutrition facts panels on packaged food, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States, said Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at UH.

“Saying Cherry 7-Up contains antioxidants is misleading. Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they’re not,” said Northup, principal investigator of the study, “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health.”

The study examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. It found that consumers tend to view food products labeled with health-related euphemisms as healthier than those without them. The research also showed that the nutrition facts panels printed on food packaging as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do little to counteract that buzzword marketing.

“Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”

The study also looks at the “priming” psychology behind the words to explain why certain words prompt consumers to assign a health benefit to a food product with unhealthy ingredients.

“For example, if I gave you the word ‘doctor,’ not only ‘doctor’ would be accessible in your mind — now all these other things would be accessible in your mind — ‘nurse,’ ‘stethoscope,’ etc.,” Northup said. “What happens when these words become accessible, they tend to influence or bias your frame of mind and how you evaluate something.”

This triggered concept is then available to influence later thoughts and behaviors, often without explicit awareness of this influence — the so-called priming effect, Northup said.

Northup developed an experiment using priming theory to gather quantitative research on how food marketers influence consumers. He developed an online survey that randomly showed images of food products that either included actual marketing words, like organic, or a Photoshop image removing any traces of those words, thereby creating two different images of the same product. A total of 318 study participants took the survey to rate how “healthy” each product was.

The products with trigger words in their labels analyzed in the study were: Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (Organic), Apple Sauce (Organic), Chef Boyardee Beefaroni (Whole Grain), Chef Boyardee Lasagna (Whole Grain), Chocolate Cheerios (Heart Healthy), Cherry 7-Up (Antioxidant), Smuckers Peanut Butter (All Natural) and Tostitos (All Natural).

Northup found when participants were shown the front of food packaging that included one of those trigger words, they would rate the items as healthier.

“I took a label from Cherry 7-Up Antioxidant and Photoshop it without the word ‘antioxidant’ and only the words, ‘Cherry 7-Up.’ I then asked people via the online survey which one they thought was healthier,” said Northup. “Each time a participant saw one of the triggering words on a label, they would identify it as healthier than the other image without the word. ”

After completing the product evaluations, the study participants then reviewed the nutrition facts panels on a variety of products. These labels would be presented two at a time so the participants could choose the healthier food or drink option.

“Food marketers say there are nutritional labels, so people can find out what’s healthy and what’s not,” he said. “Findings from this research study indicate people aren’t very good at reading nutritional labels even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and Spam. Approximately 20 percent picked Spam as the healthier option over salmon,” said Northup.

Northup hopes the results of this study will contribute to an increased dialogue on how food is marketed, guide development of specific media literacy and help people understand the effects of how food is marketed to consumers.

While we like to think of ourselves as sophisticated consumers (and just about everyone these days considers themselves as such), the proliferation of those small , yet powerful words on food labels everywhere — even where they don’t make sense — speaks directly to their actual influence. Antioxidant soda? Whole grain canned macaroni? Can those words actually manage to make an unhealthy product full of bad ingredients healthy? We know they can’t and yet, somehow, time after time, consumers are fooled. Armed with the insight as to why this manufacturers ploy continues to work, FoodFacts.com suggests we all think a little harder the next time we’re attracted to a product label bearing an extra descriptive word or two.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613130717.htm

McDonalds doesn’t want kids to see Ronald McDonald eating a Big Mac

RonFood marketing to kids is a very controversial subject. There have been many different studies done that do show that all the characters and computer games and TV commercials influence kids to beg their parents for foods we’d probably rather they not eat. And there have been many “agreements” between food companies that have them pledging to change their marketing strategies when it comes to bad food and kids. Most of those pledges aren’t technically broken, as food companies find different ways to get their messages across to the youngest among us. Fast food companies make attempts at making their children’s meals healthier, but somehow or another those fries seem to sneak back into that Happy Meal. Are the food companies intentionally sidestepping responsibility? And what about that Happy Meal anyway?

When Ronald McDonald was first introduced to America in the 1960s, he wore a magic belt that dispensed an endless supply of hamburgers.

But today, according to both food advocates and McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, America’s most recognizable clown won’t go near a Big Mac.

“You don’t see Ronald McDonald in schools. You don’t see him eating food,” Thompson said Thursday at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, according to multiple reports.

This, health activists say, is so McDonald’s can deflect criticism that it willfully markets the unhealthy food to children.

“They think that by not having him consume the food, it’s not encouraging kids to patronize the brand,” said Jesse Bragg of Corporate Accountability International, a food advocacy group that has been pushing for Ronald’s retirement for years.

In the past, said Bragg, McDonald’s has been criticized for having Ronald visit schools to teach phys ed and appear in connection with charities that work on behalf of sick children.

The company has kept Ronald at arm’s length from its food for years now, nutrition advocates say.

“At least since they joined the Better Business Bureau program in 2006, they’ve been saying they wouldn’t use Ronald McDonald to sell food,” said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that says it helped persuade McDonald’s to join an inititative run by the BBB that sets nutrition standards for advertising food to children under 12.

And Ronald’s abstemious habits may go back much further than that. Geoffrey Giuliano, who portrayed Ronald in public appearances in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is today an outspoken critic of the company, once said in an interview that he “was never allowed to eat the food” while in character because it would have been “unseemly.”

In 2007, Jim Skinner, then CEO of McDonald’s, told Reuters that “Ronald McDonald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence.”
When asked if it was official policy to keep Ronald McDonald away from the food he was created to promote, McDonald’s spokeswoman Becca Hary said only that “when Ronald McDonald appears in public, he is focused on spreading joy and smiles.” Hary declined to comment on how long this has been the case.

Marketing experts say it doesn’t really matter whether Ronald is ever actually seen eating in public: Kids will still associate him with Big Macs and Happy Meals.

“Kids are hardwired to think that he equals McDonald’s,” said branding strategist Adam Hanft, founder of the marketing firm Hanft Projects.
“There’s a test in marketing where they put people under a full magnetic resonance imaging machine, like a brain scan essentially, and they show people images, and different parts of the brain light up,” Hanft said. “If you showed kids Ronald McDonald, all the reward centers of the brain would go crazy like July 4th. Because he equals the hamburger.”

Ronald McDonald doesn’t sell food? His sole purpose is to spread joy and smiles? FoodFacts.com doesn’t remember Toucan Sam eating Froot Loops. Snap, Crackle and Pop never ate Rice Krispies. They still sold products. Ronald McDonald isn’t an ambassador of goodwill — he’s the mascot for McDonald’s hamburgers. That’s not a smiley face embroidered on his pocket — he wears the golden arches on his jumpsuit.

Come on McDonald’s, we may be gullible, but we are smart enough to understand why the big guy exists. And even if the kids don’t realize it, when they see him they ask their moms for a hamburger.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/28/ronald-mcdonald-is-never_n_5380825.html