One day, about 60 years ago, comedian Bert Lahr put on a devil costume, held up a potato chip and pronounced a sentence this would become an important step in food marketing: “Betcha can’t eat just one.»
Presenting food as deliciously addictive, as Lay’s did in its snarky TV commercial, has become advertising gold. In the decades that followed, Oreos And waffle freezer (“L’eggo my Eggo!”) were described as so irresistible that people competed to obtain them. A popular stoner film, “Harold and Kumar go to the White Castle“, recounted two friends’ obsessions with fast food sliders.
The irresistibility became such a selling point that Kellogg’s went all out and named the chocolate-filled cereal Krave. High-end chefs were not immune. Christina Tosi, known for her super-sweet desserts Milk bar stores, one of them named Crack Pie.
But we are now in the Ozempic era. A class of new drugs that eliminate cravings, as well as a new body of scientific studies, have drawn attention to the link between addiction and diet. Ultra-processed foods, made with cheap industrial ingredients and potentially as addictive as tobacco or gamblingbecome a national concern.
What should a food marketer do? Some who work or study in the country A trillion dollar food industry describe this moment as nothing more than a speed bump. Food companies are adept at riding cultural waves and finding new ways to entice customers to seek help.
Others say this is a watershed moment in the way Americans eat and will change the way companies sell food.
“It’s an existential threat to the food industry and certainly an existential threat to the processed food industry,” he said. Marion Nestlé, professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, who has written extensively on food policy and science. “All these things are coming together in a way we’ve never seen before.”
In the 1960s, when Lay’s challenged the nation to resist, “it didn’t even occur to anyone that wanting more chips might be a bad thing,” said Steve Siegelman, executive director of the creation at the marketing company Ketchum, which worked with the beef company. industry, Kikkoman and Häagen-Dazs.
Presenting food as irresistible or appetizing has already started to fall out of favor, he said, but it remains perfectly acceptable as a business-to-business tactic. Hidden Valley Ranch, for example, uses the slogan “Give them the cup they want» in its advertisements in professional catering publications.
Simple overuse has begun to undermine the marketing power of desire, said Mike Kostyo, vice president of food industry consulting firm Menu Matters, whose clients include brands like Dunkin’ and Del Monte Foods. But as an underlying concept, he said, it’s not going away.
“It’s so essential to how we market so many foods,” he said. “All these images of oozing cheese and the sound of crunching.”
Mr. Kostyo said several clients have asked him how concerned they should be about the soaring popularity of drugs like semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy) and tirzepatide (from Mounjaro), which People attribute this to silencing what they describe as “the noise of food.” . » or constant thoughts about eating. He tells them it’s too early to tell.
If selling a snack’s addictiveness stops working, he said, the industry will find something else.
Food companies faced a similar challenge in the early 1990s, when fat was portrayed as the food demon. They responded with products like SnackWell’s, a line of fat- and cholesterol-free biscuits that was so popular they were often in short supply. Baked Lay’s, with fewer calories and less fat than the original, mounted a $50 million ad campaign featuring models. fishing Or play poker. The slogan: “You can eat like a boy and still look like a girl.” » The commercials ended, of course, with Lay’s tried-and-true catchphrase.
Michael Moss, a former New York Times reporter who has written two books explaining how some food companies use science, marketing and political influence to get consumers hooked on their products, doesn’t expect drugs like Ozempic make a difference.
“Making us lose control is part of their business plan,” he said of the food industry. “I was talking with an industry lobbyist who said that vitamin O scares us as much as Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign to get kids to eat better and exercise more.
In its recent annual report on the food and drink industry, market research firm Mintel argued that consumer demand for minimally processed foods would increase and suggested that manufacturers focus on the benefits of processing food, such as extending freshness or promoting food safety.
The report also proposes a strategy for selling products without prohibitive nutritional value: “Brands that produce highly, overly or ultra-processed foods and drinks will need to remind consumers of the joy and comfort they derive from these products. »
But instead of telling consumers what a product can do for them, many marketers scour social media to find out what they want, said Caitlin Reynolds, executive vice president at advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi.
“It’s like a spontaneous chat group that runs 24/7,” she said.
In 2021, Ms. Reynolds led a team that created an award-winning advertising campaign for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers inspired by the shutdown phase of the pandemic, when people posted about eating the snacks by the handful while working from home. The multiplatform campaign presented Boban Marjanovic, the NBA player with the biggest hands, holding as many crackers as possible.
Although goldfish are a staple in homes with young children, this snack has become a best-seller among teenagers who grew up eating them. “Gen Z loves nostalgia,” Ms. Reynolds said.
And while brand integrity is important to Gen Zers, according to Mr. Kostyo of Menu Matters, they don’t have the same health concerns as Millennials, with their bowls of cereal and their nut milks.
“With Gen Z, we’re seeing a trend away from that,” he said. “They love candy, Taco Bell foods and TikTok.”
Strategies for selling food to Generation Z and its successor, Alpha, whose oldest members are 14, rely less on a repeated message in traditional advertising than on skillful use of social media. They also include fun and scandalous collaborations between brands, like the Nacho Cheese Dorito Flavored Liqueur which the snack giant recently created with Empirical, a company started by alumni of Copenhagen’s elite Noma restaurant.
Yet some companies stick to the old approach of “getting hooked.” In 2022, Taco Bell launched a subscription offer, where $10 would buy one taco per day for a month. In November he added to subscription for nacho fries.