new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Creepy Food Ads Aimed At Women: The Skinny Cow and Lays

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creepy Food Ads Aimed At Women: The Skinny Cow and Lays

Advertisers think women are fat and stupid.

This is a well documented fact: consider the boatloads of advertising campaigns designed to alleviate these twin and depressingly universal fears of woman-kind, the millions of dollars spent on convincing we ladies that we are woefully inadequate in every way, that our inadequacies can be alleviated and soothed if we just buy this particular, delightful product. The food industry is no exception.

Indeed, the food industry sees fit to create some of advertising's weirdest campaigns in an attempt to appeal to women. The reasons are easy to see: many women possess a bizarre, masochistic relationship with food, regard food as both savior and Satan. Calories are dark substances that can at the same time make you feel better and cause your eternal ruin: and in this looks-obsessed nation, this body-focused world, cellulite on the thighs translates immediately into a failing of the soul, a moral peculiarity, something to repent for. (As if the thin and gloriously built had some kind of monopoly on purity and goodness - well, we know how that goes.)

Society at large and especially women within it, describe food and the consumption thereof in religious terms. Food is sinful, food is heavenly, food will "save" you when you're feeling crap and "damn" you when you give in and eat too much of it. Food focused confessional booths, would, I imagine, be immensely popular: they would attract a line of nervous looking women, clutching their sugar-free calorie-reduction gum and thinking of Cheetohs and eternal damnation at the exact same time, with a direct and clear relation between the two.

So what are some of these curious advertising campaigns, these food-promotions aimed at the gastronomical yearnings of the fairer sex? Here we go.

- The Skinny Cow

The Skinny Cow manufactures low-calorie ice cream treats, carefully positioned to step in when depressed women might otherwise reach for that pint of Ben and Jerry's, the alluring local Nutty Buddy. The company's mascot is where the going gets weird, however: she's an anorexic looking anthropomorphized cow, with big fluttery eye-lashes and a smattering of lipstick across her bovine face, a ribbon of measuring tape eternally wrapped around her waist.

"Skinny" (oh, that's her real name!) lounges seductively around the website, curling one lithe and spotted arm around the page, daring the viewer to be turned on entirely against their will: somehow, she combines sex, self-sacrifice, and ruminants in one bizarre package, a total anomaly. Skinny even is kind enough to give advice, as the site's advice "column" will prove. To quote:

Dear Skinny, Why do you pose with a tape measure? What are you trying to tell us?

My message is simple: You can indulge in my delicious ice cream treats and still look fabulous in your birthday suit. Don't skip dessert — and don't pinch yourself with calipers!

Christ, pinching with calipers. The mental image is itself a horror: an evocation of gym class, of nightmarish rounds of public humiliation. Skinny, it's obvious, is holding us back from the brink, reminding us of the obese and disgusting fate we to will share if we give in to ice cream sandwiches and ranch-dressing covered cheeseburgers. Why would you want to do that, she asks. Enjoy the sweet release of ice-cream sammiches and faux drumsticks - almost as good as the real thing!

More distressing questions arise. Is Skinny actually naked, has she been wearing no clothes all this time? Have we been subjecting ourselves unwittingly to cow nudie-photos this entire time? And for Christ's sake, who are these women writing in?I like to tell myself that no real blood-and-bone woman has actually written in to seek a talking bovine's advice, but I may be wrong, the questions may be real, I may have to resign myself to horror.

Skinny also dishes out mysteriously worded advice, deemed "Skinnyisms". (None of them revolve around bulimia or laxatives, I'm afraid: I checked.) Observe:

“Some open their minds. Others open their hearts. Me, I open my freezer.”


“I believe in love at first lick.”

And again:

“Every day my mirror looks me up and down and says, ‘Moo la la.’”

Even the product descriptions are written seductively. Here Vanilla and Caramel Dippers are discussed:

Vanilla and caramel ice cream bars with a splash of naughty chocolate.

And again:

Tasty vanilla and mint ice cream bars dipped in chocolate make being a little naughty oh so nice.

The secondary implications of these phrases are disquieting, to say the least. The Skinny Cow represents sex, sex that can only be conferred upon the skinny, the low-calorie low-sugar ice cream eating Illuminati. Don't you forget it.

You can't, now.


Lay's Potato Chips have always had an image problem among body-obsessed women. Potato chips are fatty, they are bad for you, they are devoured while watching TV, and, most hideously, they are delicious. Therefore, many women regard a bag of potato chips, sitting on the kitchen counter, as akin in terms of sheer dangerousness to the apple in the Garden of Eden: alluring, delightful and seductive, and so evil, so horrible, so difficult to deny!

Lays, of course, is aware of this: they have their ears pricked up, they have their heads down to the ground listening for the (proverbial) Indians on the war-path. Thus, they decided that they would target women when marketing their re-hauled Baked Lays line: they would go for women's soft spots, target their insecurities, their hopes and dreams. And they would do all this to sell them baked processed-potato snacks. Becky Frankiewicz, Frito-Lay's vice president of marketing lays it on the line: "It may sound cliché, but women are different. Science tells us women’s brains are uniquely wired...Only in a Woman’s World’ humorously addresses and even celebrates the universal conflicts women feel. At least when it comes to snacking, we want women to know that they don’t have to compromise – they can have their snacks and eat them, too.”

Thank God Lays has come along to permit me to consume snacks when I so desire. My mysteriously wired brain - ah, so subject to menstrual moon cycles, to emotional mood swings, to crying jags without reason! - couldn't have figured out a rational snacking schedule all on its little old lonesome.

The Only in A Woman's World campaign, orchestrated in part with the suspiciously named Glam Media, is peopled by crudely drawn stick-figure like faux ladieess, who wear appropriately sassy outfits, have modest spare-tires around their bellies, and deal with Crazy Wacky Lives Just Like You! They're concerned with their busy schedules, their children and (most importantly) the ever burgeoning size of their butts - and Lays is here to help with their flavorful but low-cal potato snax.

The website, much like our friend the Skinny Cow's enclave, purports to be a pastel-toned lifestyle guide, hosted by four "funny, fabulous, and fearlessly female girls," complete with personality profiles that reads like a middle-aged Playboy spread. They even have "sassy" catchphrases. Cheryl's saying? "I lost five pounds, but they found me again!" Oh, we all can relate, girlfriend! And don't forget, they all have Embarrassing Imperfections (just like you!) Nikki hides how much she spends on shopping from her hubby! (I was hoping for "Maya has a raging case of Munchasen Syndrome and enjoys crush videos!" or "Nikki accidentally axphyiated her husband during a vigorous S&M session!" but, ah, nothing of the sort).

You can even play a video game from the perspective of resident harried-house wife Cheryl. As the description tells us, "Pleasing people makes Cheryl feel good!" But she's harried and crazy, she's being taken apart in chunks, she lives in a waking nightmare of demand, demand, demand: "Can you help Cheryl find calm amid the chaos by removing tasks from her To-Do list so she can score a little "met" time for herself?" Of course, Cheryl, my doppleganger, my future-self, the horror I am endlessly approaching. Of course I can. It's a dinky little puzzle game, sadly. I was hoping for a first person shooter that would involve laying waste to mini-vans and stimulating childhood education videos, but that sort of thing probably was not high on Lays agenda.

The wallpaper section conjures up more comedy gold. Nikki, merrily regarding her inflated tits, listens as Cheryl (good god, I've memorized their names) asks, "These things are the best invention since the push-up bra." To which our blonde minx responds, "I wouldn't go that far." Oh, hoho, haa, heehee! Or perhaps the moment where one woman, regarding herself in the mirror, sees a pink and distressed looking cupcake looking back at her. I would argue that there are worst things to resemble then a pink and universally beloved cupcake, but not our heroine: "Whoa...bad mirror," she remarks.

Only In A Woman's World is being pushed hard by Lays, and will doubtless be with us in its maddeningly perky format for months to come. Only in A Woman's world even had a flipping Hollywood premiere for its webisodes, featuring creepily featureless life-size standees on the red carpet. Better start eating dem' potato chips.

Frito Lays attempts to get chips into the mouths and minds of American ladies doesn't stop there. They're even incorporating pyschological warfare. From the press release:

Frito-Lay is redesigning the snack aisle to make shopping easier. If women go down the snack aisle, they are typically shopping for someone else. Frito-Lay is revamping the start of the aisle to feature the products geared specifically for her. Products will be found in the center of the aisle in traditional stores, and closer to the end of the aisle in stores that are more health oriented. The redesign is about helping women see that there is something for them in the chip aisle.

Bam! Wham! Frito-Lay has done something masterful here: they have painted selling tater' chips to women as liberating, as an effort to get women to take care of themselves for once. Chips and dip in front of Desperate Housewives is no longer just a snack, no longer just an indulgence after a Crazy Day In Your Harried Life. No, eating chips (Frito Lay chips, anyhow) is a strike for women's rights, a stand against injustice, an action that would warm the long-dead heart of Susan B. Anthony herself. I believe that I sense a tear coming to my eye, a tiny one.

Selling potato chips to men requires none of this window dressing. A campaign featuring velociraptors, flaming skulls, and a claim that Lays enhance penis-size would do nicely. Actually, I'm shocked Lays hasn't done that already - flavor the chips like hot sauce and animal fat and they'd sell billions. Women, however - apparently women must be reminded of their own imperfections and failings in order to get them to buy something. We must be guilted into commerce. Makes you feel real warm n' fuzzy about capitalism, huh?

God bless you, Only in A Woman's World. Without you, I would never know that purchasing baked low fat potato chips would render me confident, attractive, and liberated. Viva la sisterhood. Rah rah fight the power.

I'll ferret out new creepy advertising campaigns as I find them. Watch this space.

- F.G


Gretchen said...

Great post! Funny and poignant. And you're right -- those ads are creepy.

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