Can’t Cook?: Frankenfood Brain Code for Sale

Corporate capitalism is the most radically and successfully totalitarian social system in history. No aspect of life is safe from its relentless penetration and re-organization.

Want evidence? Consider the example of iFood Assistant, the Kraft Foods conglomerate’s new “app” for iPhones.

Here’s how Advertising Age describes this exciting advance in big business marketing:

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) — One of the coolest apps on the iPhone isn’t Pandora or Facebook: It’s recipes and shopping lists for Kraft singles, Jell-O gelatin and Minute Rice.

Yes, enough Kraft Food devotees are actually paying to be marketed to on their beloved iPhones that the company’s iFood Assistant is now one of the device’s 100 most popular paid apps, and No. 2 in the lifestyle category. With its endeavor, Kraft is pulling off a rare trick: getting consumers to pay a one-time 99-cent fee for the app and also sit through ads on it. And in the process, it’s collecting useful data for targeting them more closely.

IFood Assistant’s rich interface works well with the handset, and its navigation is similar to that of the iPod. The app offers a host of recipes, browse-able by ingredients, meal type or prep time. Consumers may register at KraftFoods.com to save recipes and build shopping lists.

Recipes come with instructions simple enough for the uninitiated, and daily featured recipes try to tempt the uninspired. Of course, the dishes incorporate Kraft products. A featured recipe last week, for “chicken cacciatore pronto,” calls for Kraft Light Zesty Italian dressing, chicken thighs, garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, red peppers, whole-wheat spaghetti, Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese and Kraft 2% Milk Shredded Mozzarella Cheese.

And that’s not all, boys and girls! Not only does Kraft get to sell you the cooking knowledge you lack due to corporate capitalism’s past and present assault on personal time and personal skills; not only do these Kraft-written “recipes” drive you to buy you Kraft’s processed (and hence more profitable) Frankenfoods; but, in the bargain, Kraft gets its mitts on a trove of better-than-free “marketing data” that will help its extend and refine its control over your most basic life activities! To wit:

For now, Ed Kaczmarek, director-innovation, new services at Kraft, said Kraft is using the data to understand when and how consumers are shopping, what they’re making, and which ingredients they prefer. Since users need to sign in to Kraft Foods before downloading recipes and shopping lists, that information is sent directly to the company, allowing Kraft to gather information on which recipes are the most popular and which ingredients are most used. Kraft is, of course, running ads throughout the app, some before the instructional videos and some with searches.

Footnote: To complete the picture, I tried to go onto iTunes to leave a warning about this Trojan Horse product. Guess what? “You must own this item to write a Customer Review.”

Making Munichs for Marketers: The Limits of “Consumer” Activism

Remember the much-ballyhooed tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s, the ones that were supposed to cripple Big Tobacco and then slowly starve it of new smokers?

Guess what?

1. Since the end of the publicity blitz surrounding the lawsuits, the U.S. teen smoking rate, the key to the industry’s future domestic profits, has stopped falling, and stayed steady at a substantially high level.

2. The U.S.-based tobacco corporations are about finished restructuring themselves to shield their extremely profitable global operations from U.S.-based penalties.

This is what happens when “consumer” activists do what they normally do, which is struggle mightily to summon the courage to offer their opponents what Neville Chamberlain offered Hitler. Afraid of connecting the dots between the three c-words — class, capitalism, and “consumers” — the aspiring anti-powers-that-be invariably fail to acknowledge that the weeds they are trying to pluck have roots. As a result, they invariably yield mere appeasements, rather than adequate, lasting changes.

Consider the similar case of “consumer” activists’ efforts to draw corporate food marketers to meet them in Munich about eroding childhood nutrition. A couple years back, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood threatened to sue the Kellogg Company over its unyielding peddling of a wide variety of marketing-friendly (high flavor, low nutrition) foods to the increasingly obese U.S. population of children.

The threat extracted a settlement.

Q: How much better has this settlement proven to be than Chamberlain’s famous piece of paper?

A: None.

The document itself begins by permitting Kellogg to promulgate extreme falsehoods about itself:

“We remain first and foremost committed,” its opening paragraph reads, “to meeting our consumers’ changing needs.”

This massive lie begs two questions:

1. If “consumer” needs are king, why is it necessary for “watchdogs” to police Kellogg’s behavior?

2. If putting “our consumers'” (note the possessive formulation) needs ahead of Kellogg investors’ interests were ever actually adopted as actual company policy, how many minutes it would take Kellogg shareholders to eject their derelict board of directors?

In reality, as any glance at kids’ TV will confirm, all the settlement did was tweak Kellogg’s advertising strategies slightly. Most often, they simply tack on some unrealistic pep-talk about “getting outside” for 15 minutes, as if that will either work or compensate for their shameful promotion of junk foods.

One other effect of the Kellogg/CSPI/CCFC settlement has been voluntary adoption of similar marketing “guidelines” by other corporations.

The meaningfulness of such progress can be gleaned from one of the products that Kraft Foods’ Post Cereal division now sells as part of its “Sensible Solutions” program. Here you go, health food enthusiasts:

Part of a “balanced” society? Go ask Adolf…