The smell of fear: How marketing junk food is changing

Ex-adlander Jonathan Pangu considers how, despite the bravado and anti-hipster rhetoric from the fast food players, there’s a real sense of fear in the air.

Change is in the air.

Like when someone eats a Whopper on the train home, you can really smell it.

Drip. Drip. Drip. The shocking facts around obesity globally. We don’t just read about it now, we see it in the people around us.

There is a response though. We’re eating less red meat. We’re drinking less Coke. Sugar taxes are working in countries across the globe. *Cliché alert* Are we approaching a tipping point?

Big food. Global brand titans. Chief Obesity Officers. They sense it too.

They won’t change without a fight though, there’s billions at stake.

Much you can’t see. It happens behind closed doors as lobbyists seduce and bully politicians for policies that protect their companies, not we the people.

You can see it in the marketing through, and I smell fear.

Just like in a close US election, the attack ads are out.  

Here’s Hungry Jack’s. Poor Patrick regards a small plate of healthy food. A burger phone berates him Are you seriously going to eat that? You’re not like them, you crave something more, something substantial. You need to KEEP IT REAL (try the irony of that statement, it’s delicious).

Patrick confronts all the cultural obstacles between him and his Hungry Jack’s burger. All the clichés are present, the hipsters, the fixie bikes, food Instagrammers, kale and yoga. Healthy is so annoying, better stay away.

On the radio, driving my kids to school Whizz Fizz have the same script. A kill-joy mum wants to serve kale chips and avocado mousse at a kid’s party (just like no-one in the world has, ever). Fuck no! We just won’t stand for that, lets SHOVEL IN THE SHERBERT the ad demands, before, presumably, drawing on her walls.

In the UK KFC and those usually nice people at BBH are also on the attack. Their Clean Eating Burger presented by mock You-Tuber Figgy Poppleton-Rice is healthy as a pretentious idea for posh idiots. It’s a funny piece of film but it’s cynical and manipulative. Unhealthy here is a badge of pride, two greasy sauce-drenched fingers stuck up at the world.

Even poor, long suffering Mum is a target. Subway don’t want you to go round for her lamb roast. No. She nags too much. Have one of our subs instead. Do we inhabit a world where Mum’s Sunday lunch is equivalent to a sandwich from an outlet of a global brand? Subway would have you think so. Poor Mum. Poor all of us if that’s true. Kill me now.

Maccas are ploughing a different field. They don’t attack, not their style. Their strategy is about blending in to the population – they’re one of us –so please don’t shoot us when the revolution comes.  Made for family shows how in tune they are with our lives (emotional brand film) and our finances (value bundles). It’s a superficial effort, putting a fuzzy wrapping around stuff they already make. If it were genuine Made for family would demonstrate thinking like a parent, worrying about nutrition and sugar and not still offering plastic toys in exchange for food.

There’s desperation and fear in all the kale bashing. Stay with us. Please don’t change. For God’s sake please don’t make us change.

Change is here though and there’s an opportunity to make sure we build on it further.

Campaigners, great job on the difficult and lonely early yards, press on.

Government get serious about your role in regulating a fair, balanced food environment.

Big Food, get out of attack-mode and see if you can be genuinely part of a solution.

Finally we need more brands to champion good food, especially for our kids.

Woolworth’s free fruit for kids is brilliant. It’s small but smart and I can see they’re in my corner as a parent.

It’s such a great brief and there are so many ways into it. If the best and brightest of our brands picked up the challenge the potential for positive change is huge. In these uncertain, fearful times who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Jonathan Pangu is an ex-adlander and founder of Death To Nuggets.



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