5 Ways Food Marketing May Negatively Impact You
Did you know that estimates indicate that the average person is exposed to 6,000 to 10,000 ads per day? That’s double the amount from 2007, and even if you’re not paying attention, those ads seep into your subconscious.
A significant number of those ads are for food, but not just any food. In 2014, marketing for food, beverages, and restaurants came to $15 billion. And of that marketing, 91% was for fast food, sweets, snacks, sugary cereals, and sugary drinks.
This all adds up, particularly when you start to look at how these ads work, often promising things they can’t deliver and/or presenting false images of the way people are.
Since knowing what’s going on can help you stay alert to these messages and question them, let’s take a look at five ways food marketing may be negatively impacting you.
1: Idealized images
Ads of all kinds, not just for food, nearly always show “ideal” people selling their products. This is especially true for women in ads, who are generally thin, tall, and may be digitally enhanced.
These ads inevitably invite comparison. When you see them, you subconsciously notice how different you look from those in the ads.
I certainly don’t remember seeing ads with women as short as me, or if they are short, they’re not next to other people, so you can’t necessarily tell their height. This doesn’t make me feel bad about being short, exactly, but it does reinforce the idea that the world we live in isn’t built for short people and doesn’t care as much about them.
And from a weight perspective, these ads can have a very negative impact, leading to poor self-esteem, an unhealthy focus on weight, constant attempts to diet, and eventually, for some, eating disorders.
2: Sexualization of women
And it’s not just the type of women we see in ads that’s often a problem. It’s how the women are presented.
If you want to be horrified, look at the ad images called out in this article about women in food ads. To give you a hint, one shows a woman with a partly open mouth staring longingly at a sandwich, with the words, “Blow one and swallow.” That was from Burger King. Another one, from Fat Shack, has a blonde woman with a sandwich and the words, “Four inches has never been so satisfying.” You get the idea.
This type of imagery has so many problems. It encourages both men and women to think of women as objects and only about sex. In our post #MeToo world, we all know where this can lead.
Plus, these ads indicate that “bigger is better” – particularly the one from Carl’s Jr. that states: “Everybody loves big breasts.” This makes those on the smaller side feel inadequate and that something is wrong with them because they don’t match that image.
And again, these types of ads encourage competition between women instead of focusing on women supporting each other.
3: Turning to food for emotional reasons
Ads like the ones I’ve mentioned help create a disconnect between you and your body, but they also do something else.
They encourage you to think of food as a substitute for relationships, comfort, and connection.
If you think that’s an exaggeration, check out this 30-second ad from Dove chocolate. It’s even titled “DoveChocolateLover” and very clearly shows a woman enjoying the chocolate in a very sensual way.
On a smaller scale, I saw this display of candy recently, and the Snickers bar just saying, “Satisfies.”
On the one hand, I know this is a short-hand of their catchphrase, “Packed with peanuts, Snickers really satisfies,” but when it’s reduced like that, it seems to be suggesting that the candy bar will satisfy whatever you might be craving, even if it has nothing to do with food.
Reese’s also has a candy bar called Reese’s Take 5. Even though the 5 in the name supposedly refers to the bar only having five ingredients, when I saw it, it seemed to me that they were suggesting having the candy bar is a good way to take a break.
And I have yet to see a single food commercial that encourages eating mindfully.
4: Trying to convince you what you have isn’t enough
On top of all that, when you get down to it, advertising is about trying to convince you that something is missing from your life, and perhaps it’s not quite good enough as it is. But if you have this product they're advertising, suddenly everything will be okay.
Of course, it’s never that simple. Even if something is missing in your life, having a Dove chocolate or container of yogurt or any other food item – or any other item, period – isn’t going to magically fix things.
And your life may also be just fine as it is. It’s important to remember that even if others try to convince you that it’s not enough.
5: Advertising only certain types of food
Finally, you only see advertising for certain kinds of food – mainly, foods that are processed, higher in calories, and/or lower in nutritional content.
I tried to imagine what a commercial for, say, broccoli might be like, and I couldn’t come up with anything. Other people did, though, and the result is this rather unusual commercial for broccoli (note that the broccoli itself doesn’t make an appearance until over a minute into the commercial).
That commercial is clearly an anomaly in the world of food marketing, but even though it’s selling something nutritious, it still tries to sell broccoli to you as something more than it is.
And a lot of the food marketing is aimed at kids who don’t know that what they’re seeing isn’t necessarily reality. The number of ads children see has also gone up dramatically now that they’re online more.
It’s easy to see why the ads for many fast foods or snack foods are appealing. They often have bright colors, cheerful jingles, and fun-looking cartoon characters. But a lot of this means that many children can start mindless and unhealthy eating patterns that become lifelong habits.
Now that you know…
So, now that you know some of the things going on with food advertising these days, you can hopefully think more critically about them.
It would also be worthwhile to see if you can notice the ads you’re exposed to and to see how you respond. Does watching a commercial about chocolate make you want chocolate, for example – and if so, how might you respond to that?
And if you spend a lot of time online, you could explore ad blockers to try to limit how many ads you see and hear in a day.
It may not be possible to fully escape the world of food advertising, but trying to limit it, and recognizing its influence, can help you avoid much of the negative impact.