Well I’m celebrating another birthday this month. I’ve gotten to the age where I don’t like to shout it from the rooftop, but I also appreciate the experiences, fun, and wisdom that each year brings. And of course I still enjoy the presents!
In all my years of birthdays, I’ve learned that I share my birth month with quite a number of celebrities. But this was the first year I found out I shared it with Oreo. Sigh.
Does it seem odd to anyone else that we celebrate the birthdays of food products? After all, it’s just food, and unhealthy food at that. It’s not like Oreo’s mother wants to do something special for her son. Or maybe Oreo’s siblings want to take their big brother out on the town to celebrate? No. These products are lifeless, inanimate brands. So why all the hoopla over Oreo’s birthday? You guessed it–Big Food’s thirst for fat profits.
So how do brands like Oreo profit off of birthdays? No, it’s not from the gifts they receive (although you’d be surprised at what some crafty, brand fanatics send into companies to help celebrate). Rather, Big Food uses brand birthdays to create multi-layered “events” that enable them to promote their brands, sell more processed food, and create powerful connections with consumers. Let’s take a look at Oreo’s 100th Birthday party as an example.
Generate Big In-Store Displays: One of the biggest reasons Big Food loves to celebrate brand birthdays is their ability to drive HUGE in-store displays with retailers. Not only do these displays help sell TONS of Oreo’s, but they also help the brand connect with more consumers in-store.
Limited Editions: Birthdays are also used by food manufacturers to launch special, limited edition varieties that help boost sales. Oftentimes these items can’t be shelved with regular items, so these new varieties force retailers to create special displays to promote brands like Oreo.
Public Relations Events: In our 24-hour, news-hungry world with thousands of media outlets, it’s surprising what qualifies as “news.” Unfortunately brand birthday parties like the one featured in this video link make the cut. Then they are reported on by the media as stories that fill up newscasts. If you don’t believe me, just search “Oreo birthday party” and you will get pages and pages of results.
Recipes: Big Food manufacturers love to come up with “signature recipes” to help create additional occasions for their products. A classic signature recipe is Kellogg’s Rice Krispies treats. This recipe was so popular, Kellogg’s launched a whole line of ready-to-eat snacks to cash on its popularity. The folks at Kraft are no slouch at this game, and they’ve created pages upon pages of recipes like the one pictured below, all with one simple goal: to get you eating more so Kraft can make more money.
Social Media: The goal of all food marketing is to make consumers “adore” brands (aka eat lots of it) and start sharing the brand with their friends and family. Social media is a perfect place to make this happen. On Twitter Oreo is making a splash with a Piñata contest where you can play and win free cookies. And it’s no surprise that Oreo’s birthday has a big presence on Facebook with a “Join the Movement” effort to help “set your inner kid loose.”
This Facebook page also features an “Oreo Turns 100” video. As you can probably guess, this campaign “helps” us all “reclaim our inner kid” and gives us permission to eat Oreo cookies at any moment we’d like. Now isn’t that special?
Advertising: As icing on the proverbial birthday cake, Kraft launched new advertising behind Oreo’s 100th birthday event. Much like the Facebook effort, the message of this spot is that eating Oreos help us “reclaim that inner kid.” The commercial kicks off with a contentious Parent Teacher Organization meeting where arguing adults are quickly soothed by trays of Oreos that innocent children bring out for everyone to feast on.
Who knew cookies could be so powerful? Perhaps we should send some over to nuclear arms negotiators?
Now while I appreciate that Oreo hasn’t tried to dress itself up as healthy with false or misleading claims like “whole grains” or “no high fructose corn syrup,” the idea that cookies solve life’s problems and help you reclaim your childhood is absolutely absurd. But isn’t that also the honest truth about celebrating a cookie’s birthday? No, I’m not some grinch. I don’t begrudge anyone having a party or an occasional cookie–highly processed or not. What we do have to understand is we’re under attack. Big Food is looking for every way they can to work their unhealthy foods into our life with us smiling and agreeing the whole way. It’s very easy to get sucked in by these events and ads. I know I have fallen victim. But the more we rationally understand how food companies are trying to manipulate us, the better armed we are to make informed choices, say “no,” and stop following their Pied Piper’s tune.
So what’s the good news? Well, birthdays don’t last forever so this soon shall pass. Of course, as soon as I wrote this post I saw Kraft advertising the 75th birthday for Mac & Cheese. Ugh, not again!
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