Five complete and utter lies about women and food

Many of the jobs I’ve done have involved a degree of marketing. This usually means crowding anxiously around a table, thinking about one’s “target market”, and pondering the “positioning” and the “message”. Eventually, at some point or other, one person will ask, portentously, “but what’s the actual benefit?” Whereupon we will all ask ourselves just what it is that our product is offering to those who buy it. You’d think that by this time we’d already know. To be fair, we generally do, albeit in a long-winded, wordy manner. The difficulty is translating this knowledge into a snappy message that will speak to the customer straight away i.e. a message that patronises the hell out of said customer while simultaneously looking as though it respects his or her intelligence. Such a task is, in my professional opinion, a complete and utter bugger. Now and then I relish it as a creative challenge. However, on the whole it just makes me feel like a knob.

I expect this job is even harder if you’re marketing food to women, seeing as most women have a shit attitude towards what they eat. The term “love-hate relationship” offers an accurate way of describing this, yet it fails to sum up just how painful and draining such a relationship is. If I were an advertiser I’m not sure what I’d do. Obviously as a human being I’d just like to say “fuck it, have a cake!” However, there’s such a deep well of food anxiety to cash in on, I don’t think I’d get away with it. I’d end up having to play on the idea that woman feel like crap and actually, given my background, I might turn out to be quite good at it. Thankfully I don’t expect I’ll ever be asked to do it, although I suspect I’d rise to the challenge.

Certainly, I’d be better than whoever dreamed up the following adverts, all of which drive me round the bend. Women might be feeling rubbish, but they’re not fucking stupid. And while negotiating the woman-and-food relationship is tricky – particularly if you wish to insert humour into something so fundamentally depressing – I don’t think there’s any excuse for these out and out lies:

1. Eating yoghurt is obligatory, so needs to be made as painless as possible

Yoghurt is not one of the essential food groups. No one has ever died due to yoghurt deficiency. If you do not like yoghurt, you should not eat it (after all, it has still has calories – why not save up for a Mars bar?). Perle de lait – the yoghurt for women who don’t like yoghurt – has created an entirely imaginary problem to solve. The bizarre tagline that’s been added – “pleasure makes you beautiful” – is just baffling. No, it doesn’t. Not unless a night out on champers and Marlboros makes you look like Kate Moss (which it does, but only if you were Kate Moss to begin with).

2. Crispbread makes mundane, self-deprecating conversation between women appear really fucking hilarious

The Ryvita “ladies who crunch” have met for their midday meal and are eating fucking crispbread. As if that wasn’t sad enough, they’re discussing which bits of themselves they hate (small tits ‘n’ wrinkles), apart from one (the prettiest) who “wouldn’t change a thing”. So the others tease her about her arse and her imaginary moustache, and she does one of those “you guys!” looks. While not actively offensive, this conversation is not, shall we say, the height of wit. And they’re still eating crispbread. Basically, I suspect I am supposed to relate to this advert “as a woman”, but it just makes me miserable. I’d have at least gone for “edgy” and mentioned the state of my pelvic floor.

3. Little girls are desperate to eat wholemeal bread because all the “top models” do

Food anxiety starts early. Hence in this Hovis advert (which turns out to be far more ancient than I’d realised) a little girl argues with her brother over whether they should have white or brown bread. The little girl claims to want brown because “top models eat it”. This is of course complete bollocks. I mean, some of them might, but no little girl on Earth is going to seriously think it. If the girl seriously wanted what the top models were having, she’d have asked for black coffee and speed. But little girls don’t generally do that because mums have a tendency to say no (said mums are in a bad mood due to having eaten only Ryvita and sour yoghurt all day).

4. The fewer ingredients a foodstuff has, the more impressed womankind will be

Deciding what to eat is a fucking nightmare. There’s so much stuff in stuff and practically all of it is bad. Sometimes you think you might as well not eat anything. Sometimes that is what you actually do. But thankfully, Shredded Wheat are here to save the day by producing something that is “100% wholewheat”. Womankind are apparently relieved. “Just one single ingredient!” they say in delight. But what about milk – if you add milk won’t it be two? And are you going to eat Shredded Wheat at every meal? And if not, what will you eat then? Does everything have to be one single ingredient? How many are you allowed in a day, and what is the impact of all of it mixing up in your tummy? And what’s the difference between an additive and just something you’ve added? And, most importantly, Shredded Wheat tastes like straw. This is just not a solution. We’ll have to go back to eating nothing.

5. Feeling afraid of food is actually quite amusing

This is an advert about feeling frightened of food and feeling isolated because you can’t eat the things that other people eat. You can’t just have half a cake or save a treat for later – it just won’t do and the trouble is “not everyone understands”. Thankfully a tiny packet of biscuits will make it all better – just you go and get them from your “special” store, where you keep all your “special” food. Hopefully there’s a lock on the door so nobody else in the office can get at it, especially not that witch of a tea lady, always trying to fatten you up. As depictions of having an eating disorder go, this is pretty reasonable. It’s just the whole “smiling” bit that doesn’t work.

I have written all of this while eating a lunch that I’m too embarrassed to describe, on the basis that it’s not a “good” lunch. I should be having Ryvita with my girlfriends, or Shredded Wheat straight from the pack. It might – according to the adverts – at least ease all the worries going round my head. Except these adverts are all lies and the worries never go away.

Anyhow, I’m back off to the office now to think about all the benefits I can offer my chosen market segment. I might even perform a segmentation analysis, except it will make me think of Chocolate Oranges. God, I am really glad I don’t actually have to work with food.


7 thoughts on “Five complete and utter lies about women and food

  1. So, so true – it’s shocking the way we are encouraged to worry and obsess about food.

    That said, when I was a child, the reason I wanted to eat brown bread was because white bread made me constipated. I was staying with another family for a few days, and they ate white bread, so I got constipated and I was absolutely terrified because it was the first time I had experienced constipation and I had no idea what was happening to me.

  2. The “black coffee and speed” bit made me laugh 🙂 And seriously what is it with yoghurt? I don’t understand. Who decided that all women everywhere simply *must* have fucking yoghurt?

  3. I’ve just eaten spaghetti hoops on white bread toast (70s childhood nostalgia fix).
    I’m constantly baffled by the media’s belief that women are obsessed with chocolate. We hide it to stop our flatmates getting at it, we think the endorphins released by eating it are better than sex. Or new shoes. Or something.
    Unless it’s a Yorkie, of course. Because those are for MEN. Preferably truck drivers. Our little lady mandibles can’t handle anything so rugged and butch.
    I’m doing this chocolate thing all wrong. There are currently four choc bars in my fridge (two Aeros – one orange flavour – and two Double Deckers).
    I didn’t buy them, or plan to eat any of them. That would be down to my man, getting in touch with his feminine side. Either that, or he’s a greedy bastard.
    I do like the occasional half dozen Ryvita though. Thickly spread with butter, on their dimpled side.
    Then again, I’d throw them over for a bag of McCoys, helpfully marketed as “Man Crisps”.
    Should I be having a gender identity crisis?

  4. I wonder if the toothless old biddies cramming their shopping baskets full of Perle De Lait in my local supermarket often wake up disappointed. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone under 70 buy it..Maybe they are confusing it with Olay?

    Catherine, don’t you find that Spaghetti Hoops have a bit of a watery sauce these days? I had some the other day for the first time in years and felt really hard done by….

  5. Hilarious! What a great post. As a fellow marketing bod, I can totally relate. Thankfully, I only deal in drugs, but the one time I had to dream up concepts for a certain milkshake product, highlighting its health benefits to children I was utterly shocked at the positive spin (ie lies) the strategy was calling for.

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