Mickey Digital

vdp The big-faced bottle blonde at right is Julia Vander Ploeg — perfect name! — is the newly appointed digital marketing head for that hoariest and least necessary of all brands, McDonald’s.

Seems that crap peddler is “under intense pressure from Wall Street to improve sales,” per Advertising Age. So, obviously, the answer is to make sure people can Facebook their Big Mac moments.

A Worthy Read

enjoy The New York Times does have its moments, despite its basic nature and attendant bias. Forthcoming in the Sunday magazine is a robust expose, excerpted from reporter Michael Moss’s forthcoming book, of corporate food marketing. It seems fairly packed with high quality evidence of what Marla Singer mentioned (via Veblen) yesterday: big businesses view prospective customers as so many units to be engineered for profit.

Take the case of standard practice at the Coca-Cola corporation, described by one of its former marketing executives as not having “a sense of humor when it comes to this stuff. They’re a very, very aggressive company.” Moss reports more of what this ex-Cokester admitted to him:

One of the other executives I spoke with at length was Jeffrey Dunn, who, in 2001, at age 44, was directing more than half of Coca-Cola’s $20 billion in annual sales as president and chief operating officer in both North and South America. In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day. In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

One of Dunn’s lieutenants, Todd Putman, who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001, said the goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands; Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?” (In response to Putman’s remarks, Coke said its goals have changed and that it now focuses on providing consumers with more low- or no-calorie products.)

If you believe Coke’s goals and methods have changed, TCT can also get you a really sweet deal on the Brooklyn Bridge…

A Very, Very Small Victory

quixote Today, a law that prevents toys from being included in children’s meals that exceed 600 calories and lack fruit or vegetables goes into effect in the City and County of San Francisco. Pushed by liberal lobbying groups like the oxymoronically-named Corporate Responsibility International, the idea behind such ordinances is that regulating happy meal giveaways is somehow a “step forward” in the effort to end childhood obesity and type II diabetes.

The entirely predictable response by fast food marketers? Per Advertising Age:

McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, will stop giving out Hello Kitty figurines or any other toys with its Happy Meals in San Francisco starting tomorrow because of a new city ordinance.

“A law was passed recently that means we cannot give away a free toy with our Happy Meals” at the 19 McDonald’s stores in San Francisco, [McDonald’s] spokeswoman Danya Proud said in an e-mailed statement today. Parents can buy a toy for 10 cents along with a Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal, she said.

Wow! The revolution is upon us now, isn’t it?

But, seriously, what a mess. In the name of the patently silly idea that free toys are a major cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, activists have succeeded in enacting what will amount to a ten cent tax on poor people. Meanwhile, those same poor people will absolutely continue to buy happy meals, for the same old reasons, which are far larger and deeper than the mere unawareness attributed to them by the gesturing activists lobbying for addlepated regulations.

Personally, I’d wager the dime charge might actually do the very opposite of what the toy-banners thought they were accomplishing. By raising the topic of whether or not to get a toy and by associating it with a price, mightn’t the new arrangement make the toy forbidden (but not really) fruit, and hence an even better vehicle for inculcating brand loyalty?

In the process, the contortions needed to pretend that the SF happy meal law is anything but a pointless pose forces otherwise excellent people to become liars:

[McDonald’s move to offer toys for a dime is] “Proof positive, and completely admitted by McDonalds, that no customer will buy a Happy Meal unless it comes with a toy,” Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, told CBS News in an email.

Dr. Nestle, people aren’t stupid. If the toys were absent, a great many people would most certainly still buy happy meals. So, why insist the contrary? Are you trying to discredit the idea of creating a better society?

The prevalence of fast food is a symptom, not the disease.

World’s Easiest “Critical Question”

roflmfao Researchers at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity have just issued a report finding that — surprise, surprise — big business marketing to children continues to expand in all directions.

The report itself is moderately interesting and useful, even for us grizzled TCT vets who know that the expansion of marketing is built into our political-economic order. Example: Under the ever-growing tide of sales-messaging they see, 15% of pre-schoolers now ask every day to be taken to McDonalds.

Of course, especially coming from an Ivy institution, the researchers also adopt the obligatory limp-leg routine that has always marked Naderian special pleading against corporate capitalism’s relentless life-endangering output. Imagining that somebody in the overclass will soften up and take their plea for concern to heart, they studiously avoid making sharp institutional diagnoses, so as not to offend their intended audience. (C. Wright Mills called this ingrained obsequiousness “liberal practicality.”)

Playing dumb and pretending that, despite the mountain of screaming evidence, it’s all just a big mistake is also part of this schtick. Consider this remarkable bubble-headed passage:

The restaurant industry response: The two largest fast food advertisers to children, McDonald’s and Burger King, have joined the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) pledging to advertise only “better-for-you” choices to children, and the majority of restaurants have introduced some more nutritious options to their menus.

But critical questions remain: Are these actions having a positive impact? Or, does the sheer volume of marketing for restaurants’ least nutritious options eclipse any positive efforts?

Let’s see now: Either the fast feeders are legitimately trying to promote healthy food, or they are making gestures that they and every non-brain-dead critic know full well to be mere “halo-ware” strategies.

At Yale, they can’t make this call? Draw your own conclusions…