It's a weird time in product advertising. Corporations are trying to reinvent products for a new kind of consumer -- the one looking for "natural" goods. Natural is to right now what eco-friendly was to the marketplace over the past decade. And since "natural" is currently undefined, it's interesting to see how marketers are hoping to frame the discussion.
For the moment, it seems to be through championing the virtue of ingredients. Whereas previously eggs and sugar were just part of a label, they're now being given front-and-center treatment. McDonald's introduced "See What We're Made Of" in 2008; it turns breakfast into egg, cheese and sausage components, and a burger into the sum of vegetables and meat. Pillsbury recently introduced its Simply ... Cookies line -- which shows the ingredients directly below the cookies on the front of the package. Haagen-Dazs now has seven flavors in its Five line of ice creams that contain only five ingredients.
We're also talking about the freshness or the local suppliers of specific ingredients. And that makes it easy to forget that we're eating cookies or double cheeseburgers for lunch.
It's a smart strategy for two reasons. First, how often do you get
through all of the ingredients on a product label? And second, on their own, eggs and
sugar are value-neutral. It's hard to criticize basic ingredients
that are common to many foods. Ice cream makes you fat, but
sugar ... sugar is just a part of life.
The newest marketing push is partly a reaction to the locavore
movement and authors like Michael Pollan, who argues that at some point
we got away from food and moved towards "edible food-like substances."
These are packaged and processed goods that have been flavored or
altered in order to change the ratio of fats or reduce the amount of
Companies hope that if the discussion can be shifted away from the processing to the elements that are part of the process, consumers will keep buying their products. But if
it leads to more transparency in what we eat, I'm all for the new move
to highlight ingredients.