A hundred years ago, food wasn’t much of an industry. Today, packaged, profitable, processed food has transformed every element of our culture.
The Super Bowl is a food holiday. Visit (if you must) the local supermarket on a Sunday morning before the big game. That’s the primary function of the event… to eat processed foods and beverages while hanging out with a group of people. Bonding via shared junk.
Same with a typical birthday party. Kids get validation from their friends (you came) and from their parents (yay, we get to eat junk.)
It’s not an accident that fried corn, sugared beverages, semi-trans fats and white flour have become essential parts of our culture. You can’t get elected in Iowa without pigging out at the Fair and you can’t host a party without stocking up on the chips. Somehow, food marketing became a story about respect. Few people say, "it’ll be fun… I’ll make a big bowl of brown rice and serve oatmeal cookies I made from scratch." Too weird. Too risky. People might not like you if you challenge the food dynamic.
There’s always been a cultural desire to conform. The difference is that now there’s money at stake, so marketers push us to conform in ways that turn a profit.
Marketers, brilliant, profit-oriented marketers, have had a century to teach us to associate respect and kindness and love with certain kinds of food.
And that’s why this post isn’t just a screed, it’s a lesson for marketers everywhere.
…Just as the jewelry and floral people have taught us that flowers and diamonds = love and that a respectable gentleman spends two months salary (!) on an engagement ring. Not an accident, of course. It’s too risky, marketers teach us, to send a handmade card or skip the jewelry and buy a research grant or pay for part of a school.
…Just as the car you drive somehow says something about who you are.
…Just as the college-industrial complex has taught us that the best colleges are the ones that are the most expensive (making them the hardest to get into, furthering the cycle),
…you have the opportunity to start down this road with what you make.
So I’m hoping that what you make is worthy. Marketing is a powerful tool especially when it associates a product with a desire and instinct we already have.
Marketing, when it works, transcends any discussion of the benefits of the product or the service.
Marketing, instead, is about the equal sign.
Many of us want fun and respect and love and success and kindness and hope. What brilliant marketers do is add the =.