Get Your Manipulation ON

For about 12 years now I’ve worked in a marketing-related field and from the get-go, I learned pretty quickly how to manipulate statistics to say whatever I wanted. I’ve also learned how to put a positive spin on just about anything… channeling a sort of a bright-side, optimistic angle to everything.

I’m not a bright-side type girl. Oh, I used to be in high-school, nothing much bothered me in those days, and if something did bother me, I was quick to find a positive in its midst. I wasn’t annoying about it – at least I don’t think I was – it was just genuine, youthful optimism that radiated from me. Or naiveté. Take your pick.

But now, I’m bothered. I’m part of a machine, a spin doctor, knowingly distracting from the negative by waving my hands over here at something positive. Distract, confuse, draw-in. Manipulate.

That’s what bugs me the most: the manipulation of marketing. I hate being manipulated and I dislike manipulating people (notice I don’t say I hate manipulating people… I’ll do it on occasion if it benefits me… and if you’re honest, so do you… but it feels pretty under-handed and bitchy when I do so I try not to).

So generally, I despise marketing.

Before I continue, I do want to say, marketing is a part of my livelihood so I don’t want to bash it completely. I think a lot of the people in marketing are good people and are mainly looking to do their job well, and maybe don’t think of the consequences of the products they’re promoting. And, sometimes products aren’t that big of a deal… the consequences of marketing them well are not going to upset the time-space continuum or anything like that (Booyah! LOVE being able to use nerdy-assed references like “time-space continuum!”). Like mustard. Is mustard going to hurt anyone? Not unless you’re allergic or you go through bottles of the stuff everyday.

So why am I even talking about marketing and my dislike of it?

Food. The marketing segment that most sticks in my craw is food marketing. It makes me want to do this:

It makes me want to rage… RIGHT NOW (thank you Brian Wilson… the baseball player, not the beach boy… Google him. LOVE HIM). Or this:

Except… you know… to unhealthy food. How awesome would it be to run down a grocery aisle and smash the stuffings out of all the processed crap lining the shelves?

Food marketing is, in my mind, the evil step-child of marketing. It must be destroyed before it consumes our soul, filets us over a flaming bbq, and invites over a special dinner guest by the name of Lucifer.

Why am I so repulsed by food marketing? It convinces people they’re doing something healthy for themselves when they aren’t. AT. ALL.

Case in point: Breakfast Cereal

I noticed recently that one of the cereal giants is promoting their cereals as having “even more healthy whole grains!” I think there was even a blurb about whole grains being the first ingredient on their label. But like the man behind the curtain, pay no attention to all the sugar making this cereal palatable!

  • Cheerios – 1 Cup – 1g sugar
  • Chex Wheat – ¾ Cup – 5g sugar
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch – ¾ C – 10g sugar
  • Cocoa Puffs – ¾ Cup – 10g sugar
  • Fiber One Raisin Bran Clusters – 1 Cup – 14g sugar
  • Golden Grahams – ¾ Cup – 10g sugar
  • Honey Nut Cheerios – ¾ Cup – 9g sugar
  • Kix – 1 ¼ Cup – 3g sugar
  • Lucky Charms – ¾ Cup – 10g sugar
  • Total Raisin Bran – 1 Cup – 17g sugar
  • Trix – 1 Cup – 10g sugar

What I find particularly interesting is that kid cereals are keeping the sugar to around 10g or less. Companies have been kicked around over this issue so they’re doing a small part to change the sugar content of kids’ cereals. Or they’re at least changing the serving size to make us think they’re reducing the amount of sugar in kids’ cereals.

LETSBEHONEST… who REALLY has only ¾ cup of cereal? When I ate cereal, I’d usually have about 2 cups in my bowl (mmm lucky charms) for an estimated 27g of sugar, not including milk.

Surprisingly, when you look some of the more “adult” cereals, the sugar content soars. Who would have thought Fiber One or Total Raisin Bran would have more sugar than sweet “kids” cereals? And what about parents who feed their kid those more adult cereals thinking they’re doing their wee one a nutritional favor?

We’ve been in such an uproar about kids cereals we forgot to closely examine all the other cereals on the market. For the record, the only cereal that is doing you any favors are the unsweetened, plain jane cereals: Cheerios, Chex, and Kix. Better yet, instead of cereal, reach for a couple eggs and a piece of fruit instead.

Case in Point 2: Nutella

Breakfast never tasted this good? Well of course not. When has breakfast ever included 70+ grams of sugar? Yeah, that’s right people. The “Nutella breakfast,” as depicted on the Nutella website, includes the chocolately, hazelnutty spread slathered on a piece of whole-wheat toast with a piece of fruit, a glass of orange juice, and a glass of milk which totals around 73g of sugar. WTF!?

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Orange juice – 21g sugar
  • Skim Milk – 12g sugar
  • Whole Pear – 15g sugar
  • Whole-grain Toast – 3g sugar
  • Nutella – 22g sugar
  • Total – 73g sugar

73 grams of sugar is more than 17 teaspoons of sugar. A 2 tbsp serving of Nutella alone as about 5 teaspoons of sugar – the new daily recommended limit for women, and nearly twice the 3 teaspoon limit for children.

This complete “healthy” breakfast is more than 3 times the recommended sugar intake for your average women. For those male readers, the new sugar intake recommendation for men is 9 grams of sugar (lucky bastards). This breakfast would fill your sugar allotment for the day. And I’m pretty sure all of us would be famished two hours later from such a breakfast.


And these are just two examples of where “healthy” marketing is distracting us from the real story.

Other “healthy” Fare:

  • Milk: It does a body good? Especially the low-fat stuff with 12g of sugar per serving.
  • Snackwells: Low-fat! Bet you can’t eat just one since they’re loaded with sugar!
  • Lean Cuisine/Healthy Choice: Also low-fat. Also loaded with salt, sugar, preservatives, and packaged in a lot of questionable plastic.
  • Canned Fruits/sauces: Tons of added sugar.
  • Fruit Juices: Tons of added sugar.
  • Yogurt: loaded down with both sugar and artificial sweeteners.

So I’d probably be insulting you if I thought this was a new concept for you. I’m sure we’ve all heard this in one form or another. The stuff advertised as healthy, most likely isn’t so. You live this day in and day out. But let’s conjure some strategies to deal with this marketing minefield anyway.

  1. Be skeptical of everything. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. We’re not going to make this a probably statement. We’re going to say that it is, without a doubt, too good to be true.
  2. So with that acknowledged, we have to educate ourselves with the facts. Find out what is behind the curtain that these marketing wizards are trying to distract us from. What sleight of hand are they trying to pull? This is as easy as reading the nutrition label AND the ingredient list.
  3. Of course, identifying what needs to be avoided and deemed “unhealthy” requires you to answer some questions for yourself on what you deem to be healthy. So take 10 minutes and write down your food values, your stance on food issues. What is important for you to consume and to avoid? For me, this encompasses a Paleo diet that makes some room for full-fat dairy; specifically cream, butter, and cheese. I know sugar is a huge problem for me so I’m going to avoid it like the plague. I also know I feel icky when I eat bread and grain-based products. I get indigestion and reflux symptoms that range from annoying to major discomfort and heart-attack like symptoms (scary stuff!). And I like the idea of sustainably raised food. That ties into my values and food choices as much as I can afford it.
  4. Bypass food manufacturers and marketers almost completely by consuming a diet consisting of mostly whole foods; meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and dairy. Yum. Those inner aisles in the grocery store are stuffed with food products that aren’t vital to your diet. They don’t add anything you can’t already get from meats, eggs, veg, fruits, nuts, and dairy… except for convenience.
  5. Be diligent. If you haven’t checked labels on your old standbys lately, check them. Things can change. Economic hardships sometimes demand cost savings and companies may change their recipe in order to use cheaper ingredients and keep their profit margin in the black.
  6. Remember, food companies aren’t here to care for us. They’re in it for the money. I totally support them in their right to make a product, sell it, and make a profit. Otherwise, why bother? Unfortunately they don’t all bring high standards to the product table. Find companies you trust, who engage in practices you can support, and trade your hard-earned money for their quality products.
  7. Whenever you can, shop locally. It’s great to be able to interact with the people who grew/raised your food. You get a sense of their values and practices and can feel confident in the quality on your plate.

Okay… I could probably go on, but this is already very lengthy, so I’ll stop. I will bring up one other thing though… my focus has been on the sugar content of these foods and I think sugar is a BIG problem in the American diet. But we haven’t even begun to tap into the additives, preservatives, “natural flavors,” packaging, and sustainability of all these processed foods. Perhaps a topic for another day.

How do you feel about marketing? Do you want to scream at your tv when you see cereal commercials promoting healthy whole grains while they are saturated in sugar? Have you ever wanted to go Gallagher on a grocery store aisle?


3 responses to “Get Your Manipulation ON

  • jennincat

    I loved this post and couldn’t agree more! It was also very helpful bc I’ve been meaning to research the daily recommended limit of sugar for children. We have been having some sugar battles over here. I need a number to give to my oldest mr analytical. Thanks!

    • musajen

      Glad to be of service! I’ve been trying to go back to the original source for that stat and now I can’t find it. That’ll teach me to not keep better track of my sources. Good luck with the sugar battles! Battling my own sugar cravings is such a feat I can’t imagine getting the rest of the family on board.

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