Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paradoxical Food Advertising & Caregiver Abuse

For some reason, whenever I think of either paradoxical food advertising or caregiver abuse I am reminded of the other. I suppose it's because both come wearing a face of benevolence but do, or may, have a dark side.

Paradoxical Food Advertising
There is a new commercial running on television for Frito-Lay potato chips. The setting is a beautiful, sunny day. A crowd of healthy, happy people are gathering on a farmer's field. Holding bowls in their hands they look skyward in anticipation. There is a slight pause then "poosh!", potatoes start shooting out of the soil and rocket into the air. Seconds later, potato chips begin falling from the sky into the bowls of the smiling people. The chips, made from potatoes, straight from the earth are baked by the sun and delivered as if a gift from nature. The message is that potato chips are a healthy, natural snack.

Screens from the Frito-Lay website.

When a product doesn't have a clear, competitive advantage or has an objectionable quality, one marketing strategy that's used is to position the product as if it is the exact opposite of what it really is. Hence, the presentation of potato chips as a healthy, natural snack.

Michael Pollan, in his NYTimes piece on nutrition and the food industry titled Unhappy Meals offers this as one of his simple principle's for healthy eating: "avoid those food products that come bearing health claims. They're apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best."

In the technology category, one of my all-time favorite examples is AT&T's "Reach Out and Touch Someone" campaign. Technology is, by it's very nature cold, mechanical and inhuman. The invention of the telephone actually made it possible for people to live apart from one another, to be increasingly geographically separated. AT&T offered the promise of "touch", a promise that it can't fulfill, with a technology that help created increased physical distances in the first place.

Caregiver Abuse
A bizarre and rather dark paradox that has always fascinated me is caregiver abuse. A caregiver is generally defined as someone who takes care of someone who is unable to care for their own basic needs. The cared-for person is usually an invalid or elderly individual. The caregiver may or may not be a professional and is often a close family member. Apparently, cases of abuse by caregivers is quite common. Obviously a difficult thing to measure, the range is suspected to be somewhere between 5 and 23%. The reasons cited as the cause of the abuse are resentment, stress and the difficulty in caring for the disabled.

One of the most interesting cases I've come across involves physicist Stephen Hawking. A few years ago there were allegations that his second wife was abusing him. From the Daily Mail: Hawking's nurse reveals why she is not surprised his marriage is over.

It is a relationship that, almost from the beginning, has provoked a storm of controversy - and suspicion - the wheelchair-bound Prof Hawking, 64, who has suffered from motor neurone disease since the age of 22, and the "controlling, manipulative and bullying" (the words of another former employee) Elaine.

Because for years there have been shocking rumours of violence and abuse against the vulnerable scientist - mental as well as physical - supported by his own children no less.

Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints.
-Mick Jagger (Sympathy for the Devil)

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