Why We Eat What We Eat

December 10, 2013

Some years ago, Eric Schlosser wrote the devastating critique “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” which took us all inside the often hideous manufacturing processes of the American food industry. Last night, I listened to the first part (of two) of Jill Eisen’s “Stuffed” which examines exactly why we eat what we eat today.

While Schlosser’s book taught us about the manufacture of food, Eisen examines the political and commercial aspects of marketing food. It is a thorough and disturbing picture of the gathering epidemic of obesity and ill-health in the western world driven by the search for profit. I follow marketing and advertizing with keen interest, but even I was shocked by a number of the revelations she documents.

She examines how cheese stopped being something you simply ate, or used in a sandwich, and became a ubiquitous ingredient (and in turn became the primary source of saturated fat in the North American diet). She explains how the food industry taught us that cooking was boring, difficult, a chore to be avoided, and thus managed to sell us vast amounts of processed and ready-made foods. She looks at how the food industry appropriated the feminist critique to get us to eat fast food.

This is vital self-defence education and is really worth the 50 minutes of listening (don’t get confused by the 30-second commercial for “As It Happens” at the beginning).  Well done CBC Radio!  I’m looking forward to Part 2 next week.

Censorship in Vancouver

December 6, 2013

Billionaire Jim Pattison’s Outdoor Billboard company — which is almost a monopoly in the city — has refused to accept the following poster:

atheistThe ad was an attempt to recruit membership in the Centre for Inquiry Canada. “When we designed the ads, we went out of our way to make them as soft as we could. Our purpose is to find those people out there who think the same way we do but don’t know there’s an organization that will support their views. It’s like any other advertising campaign: we’re looking for people who are interested in our message and our product,” said Pat O’Brien.

This is a disgraceful attempt to enforce political/religious views by Pattison’s company.

Product Improvement Fail!

December 6, 2013

As a diabetic, I never use processed white sugar. When I need a bit of sweetening I use packaged chemicals (which no doubt have their own problems, but …)

At home I use Sugar Twin which used to come in a handy sturdy cardboard box.  Now, it is in a “flexible” plastic bag:

sugar twin

The product “improvement” geniuses have moved from a package that is easy to store and stack, easy to open, and easy to use to one that is none of those things.  Moreover they have gone from a package that can be made from recycled paper to one that cannot.  I bet the price went up too.



Another Ad That Reaches Art

September 19, 2013

As I have mentioned before, some ads are simply genius. This is the latest I have found that meets that level:

Some Ads Are Works of Art

August 4, 2013

This is one of them….

Keep Calm and Carry On

March 13, 2013

The story of how the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster came to public attention.  A nice piece.

Update On The Shelly Sign

August 24, 2011

A little while ago, I reported on the finding of the Shelly Baking Products sign on the side of the old Victoria Drive Grocery that is being converted to a pizza restaurant plus apartments.

The good news is that the new owners have agreed to preserve the sign. The less than good news is that they are reported to be removing it from its place on the lane wall and intend to display it inside the restaurant.  That is a shame for several reasons.

  • First and most importantly, I hope we can all agree that heritage is best left in situ.  The sign inside the building is not the same thing as the sign where it belongs;
  • Second, as local historian Bruce Macdonald has pointed out, the sign doesn’t look very good close up; it is hard to read and has the natural gaps of the boarding on which it was painted.  It needs a certain distance to be properly appreciated. Macdonald has suggested that a high resolution photograph would be a far better alternative for interior use;
  • Third, the sign has already proven a draw to bring folks to the building (as the owner agreed on a recent CBC interview) and moving it inside removes that “tourist” value.

The following sequence of photographs taken by Penny Street of the Grandview Woodlands Heritage group shows the changes to the sign over the last couple of weeks.  The top two images, taken on August 11th and 15th show the sign being revealed. The lower two, taken on August 18th and 23rd show it gradually disappearing once again.

The assumption, now, is that the owners want to put a window into the lane wall and the sign is in the way.  Given their progress on the site, this sign in its original spot is already toast.  That’s a great shame but perhaps we can learn from this to better protect similar artifacts that may be found in the future.

Reason #204 Not To Use Facebook

May 22, 2011

As a reminder to all those of my readers who still use Facebook — even though it is the corporate-government’s best way of collecting data that is then used against you — there is no free lunch. As you sit there contemplating your wall and checking the status of others, or whatever it is that Facebook users do, apparently for free, the Man is making a sure buck from you.

Digital Buzz has an excellent InfoGraphic segment on The Real Cost of Social Media.  The article is full of interesting data, but I was particularly drawn to the following analysis.  They looked at how much money is spent by a customer who is a Facebook fan and a customer who is not on Facebook; and they all make a bunch more money from you facebookers!

If only one or two retailers were seeing this effect, we could scratch our heads and wonder. But when the entire spectrum of mass marketers make additional profits from people hooked into Facebook, then we can be sure this is both deliberate and avoidable.

Previous reasons not to use Facebook

The French Really Know …

June 26, 2010

… how to advertise orange juice!

The Good Old Thanksgiving Days

November 26, 2009

In 1936, Camel cigarettes issued the following ad for Thanksgiving:

I hope you can read it.  Smoking between courses is the healthy thing to do it declares.  “Smoke a camel right after the soup,” it says. “For digestion’s sake … You enjoy food more and have a feeling of greater ease after eating when you smoke Camels between courses.”

Ah, those good old days!

I started smoking early and was already a confirmed smoker by the time I started to attend dinners with my father’s American businessmen friends.  However, it was still a shock to me back then (perhaps 1966) when they lit up cigarettes between courses.  I remember then doing it with my friends and explaining that it was just the chic thing to do.  Such dupes we all were!

Good Looking

November 3, 2009

This week, Fast Company has featured a new book: New Packaging Design by Janice Kirkpatrick.  The book reviews packaging design from around the world.  The Fast Company review includes pictures of several of the designs, including the one I like best:


This is a campaign image for Nepia tissues.

Wonderwall, a Japanese interiors firm, and Groovisions, a graphic-design firm, brought a high-concept approach to a tissue box for Nepia. Each one looks like a mottled brick; when stacked, they look like a wall. The fluffy tissue contrasts with the industrial-looking tromp l’oeil.

Creativity doesn’t need to be complicated.

Marketing On The Fly

October 31, 2009

I am a marketer at heart, and I really appreciate those who extend themselves in thinking of novel and memorable marketing ideas. Thus it was impossible for me not to be impressed when a German group recently used banners tied to houseflies to send their message. The report and video from Wired:

The banners, measuring just a few centimetres across, seem to be causing the beleaguered flies a bit of piloting trouble. The weight keeps the flies at a lower altitude and forces them to rest more often, which is a stroke of genius on the part of the marketing creatives: the flies end up at about eye level, and whenever a fly is forced to land and recover, the banner is clearly visible. What’s more, the zig-zagging of the fly naturally attracts the attention because of its rapid movement.

Clever stuff for a stunt!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

January 7, 2009

In a clear victory for free speech and secularism, the Atheist Bus Campaign raised more than $150,000 in just four days.  Yesterday, they unveiled their message on the side of 800 buses across Britain.


Next week, the campaign will put up 1,000 posters on the London Underground system with similar messages.

An interesting element of the bus slogan is the word “probably,” which would seem to be more suited to an Agnostic Bus Campaign than to an atheist one … But the element of doubt was necessary to meet British advertising guidelines, said Tim Bleakley, managing director for sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor in London, which handles advertising for the bus system.For religious people, advertisements saying there is no God “would have been misleading,” Mr. Bleakley said. “So as not to fall foul of the code, you have to acknowledge that there is a gray area,” he said.

Good old England!

The War Against Nipples

December 31, 2008

What a weird culture we live here in North America.  So much advertising is about, or uses, sex as a sales strategy — which in simple terms means good looking women wearing few clothes and preferably with a deep and well-rounded cleavage;  women’s breasts are to modern marketing what “god” is to religions.  And yet, at the merest suggestion of a nipple, the cultural warriors ride in on their chargers screaming about pornography and obscenity.

These musings were inspired by a Time magazine article entitled “Facebook’s War On Nipples“.   It appears that everyone’s favourite social networking empire has decreed that any image displaying part or all of a female nipple is prima facie obscene.  It has arbitrarily removed a lot of pictures — to the loud chagrin of some well-organised groups.   Not the least of these organizations is the Facebook group called “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” which had 85,000 members by year’s end and arranged the simultaneous uploading of 11,000 breastfeeding images to Facebook last Saturday.


For me it is the simplest of issues:  Censorship is censorship and has to be challenged constantly and decisively.   I agree with Paul Rapoport, coordinator for the Topfree Equal Rights Association (TERA):  “[Facebook’s] policy clearly implies that visible nipples or areolas always make photos of women obscene. Facebook stigmatizes breast-feeding and demeans women.”

But the two cultural issues that fascinate me most are hypocrisy and self-reference.

The hypocrisy is implicit in my first paragraph:  We use sex everywhere to sell everything, and yet we wield a big stick if it goes “too far”.  One example was the ludicrous fine levied by the FCC because a Janet Jackson nipple may have been exposed for a fraction of a second on TV — only noticeable to a viewer who was already staring at her breasts at the exact time it happened.  The cultural hypocrisy was doubled in that case because for months afterward, it was hard to watch a TV show or read a magazine without seeing close-ups of the offending moment, sometimes with large red arrows in case we missed the point.

As for the self-referential nature of a Facebook group being used to hammer Facebook, it is so perfectly post-modern that I could weep.

The Wonders of Advertising Technology

October 21, 2008

This story is from WCBSTV in New York:

New York’s transit agency is testing digital advertising screens on the sides of buses.  The screens can target ads for specific neighborhoods. The ads, which resemble TV commercials, could even advertise coffee in the morning, and beer after work.  Titan Worldwide has a 10-year, $800 million contract to sell ads throughout the city’s bus and commuter-train systems. The company says GPS technology allows it to change the ads based on the buses’ locations.   The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is testing the system on a Manhattan route, with an eye toward 200 buses in the first quarter of next year.