Perception and Deception?
As we continue in our Hamburger series, we find it time to examine perception of this most beloved of American fare. While our idea of the relative merits and evils of hamburgers may come from nostalgia, memory, or experience, it is quite likely that this perception is informed, at least in part, by food advertising.
So what constitutes an ethical ad? I asked senior SMU advertising student Cassandra Pankonien her thoughts:
“An ethical advertisement is one that considers its impact on the world in every sense of the word. How it effects consumers’ psyche, whether it perpetuates stereotypes, even the sustainability of product should be considered when creating an ad.”
Further, according to the EAS-405 Standards of Ethical Advertising, all advertising should be “legal, decent, honest, and truthful” and that it should in no way mislead the consumer, especially with regards to “characteristics such as: nature, composition, method and date of manufacture, range of use, efficiency and performance, quantity, commercial or geographical origin or environmental impact.” So how do the elements that make up hamburgers measure up to this standard? To address this question, let us examine three highly marketable brands whose products are all pertinent to the hamburger and their respective ad campaigns: McDonald’s, Heinz Ketchup, and Kraft American Cheese.
We all know McDonald’s, the quintessential American fast-food chain famed for their quick-and-ready burgers, and have seen their recent ‘What we’re made of campaign” as seen below:
The ad begins with a mother carrying a grocery bag laden with fruits and vegetables and a shot of her grocery list of items that contribute to a well-balanced diet for her family. The tag line is delivered in a savvy female voice—“We’re as picky about our quality ingredients as you are, because that’s what we’re made of,” accompanied by an exciting montage of fresh ingredients engaging in a sort of animated dance. So how are we told to perceive McDonald’s as a brand—particularly as a producer of hamburgers—by this ad? We are told we can trust McDonald’s as much as we would trust our own mother in the preparation of our food and in the selection of the ingredients that go into that food.
The ad clearly targets American mothers—everything from the again-savvy voice, the playful allusion to the busy, modern mother’s typical lunch of cold coffee, and the reference to the ritual of preparing lunch for one’s children appeal to mothers. What is more striking, however, is the ad’s emphasis on the idea that Kraft Singles are wholesome, and that serving such a meal to one’s children makes one a better mother than serving something frozen. There is dignity in the preparation of a sandwich whose albeit “processed cheese product” is made from real milk. The insistence on wholesomeness and a return simplicity is a bit ironic in a food whose production could not be less simple.
The Heinz Ketchup slogan appeals to this same sensibility—a desire to return to what is simple and good. “Grown, not made” and “No one Grows Ketchup like Heinz” have become the calling card for Heinz Ketchup this decade, suggesting that the elusive and vaguely pastoral lifestyle where one can cultivate one’s own food can be attained if one only buys Heinz ketchup.
Unlike the cheese, the ingredients in Heinz are relatively simple—tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, and other natural flavors. But does the ketchup really grow right off the vine? Is the ad attempting to counter a pre-existing perception of ketchup as processed or bad for one’s health?
The questions raised by these ads are ones to which I have no clear answer, only personal opinion. What has become clear, however, is that food advertising has become quite clever and indeed convincing, and we must beware. But for now, it’s lunchtime, perhaps I should whip myself up a wholesome grilled cheese sandwich. Did I mention it was made with real milk?
–Rebecca Quinn, Ethics Design Team