Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Tale of Two Commercials

I encountered two health-related commercials this week, one which I found revolting, and one which I found surprisingly charming. I’m a health libertarian--I’m fine with anyone guzzling, smoking or otherwise digesting whatever they want as long as it doesn’t negatively affect others. And nothing bores me more than talk about “healthy lifestyles,” mostly because thanks to rampant misinformation, none of us actually know what a healthy lifestyle entails anymore. (Can we decide on eggs for once and for all? I’m so tired of their five-year rotation on and off the naughty list.) I’m not sure why I’m oddly obsessed with two commercials touting “health,” but maybe the recent Seattle soda tax has been on my mind.  

The first commercial I shall discuss is for Special K cereal products. After years of bringing us the “red bikini” ads and featuring a tape measure squeezing their cereal box like a corset, Special K has suddenly decided that’s okay for women to consume calories, since we need our strength for problem solving or something. There are several versions of this commercial in different lengths, but the 30-second version is here:

Aside from the fact that the specter of people eating elicits in me a deep and visceral revulsion, I find everything about this ad obnoxious. Oh my God, ladies, aren’t we ameerrrrzing?? We have babies!!! We run companies! We problem-solve. God help me, within the first ten seconds I wanted to throw up. Could these women be more smugly proud of themselves for doing completely ordinary things that human beings have done since the beginning of time? We can gnaw on a power bar and breast feed at the same time! We eat chocolate and there’s nothing you can do about it. Snarf, snarf, snarf. Off goes the bra! Ugh. We are approaching 2020. Are they really still shoving the “women eating is a radical act” trope at us? And what kind of a nut job keeps a full-sized box of cereal on her office desk? I honestly prefer their “get skinny to fit into that cute bikini” approach of yore. At least it was goal-orientated.

Alright, so this next one I was pleasantly surprised by. Most anti-smoking ads are terrible. They’re overly-dramatic, shaming, and use cruel scare tactics that are completely ineffective at getting anyone to actually quit. This commercial, made in Ireland, takes a positive, “we’re-all-in-this-together” approach:

I like that it features all ages, it limits itself to one brief “scare” scene, and that it frames quitting as a community effort. I never thought that I would describe an anti-smoking ad as exuberant and light-hearted, but this one manages to be both, while keeping its serious message in the forefront. That, in my humble opinion, is a much more effective approach to behavior change.

Speaking of health, I went to the gym twice this weekend. (Pausing for applause.) I think I deserve some sort of special award or commemorative pin or something. You can mail it to my home address.

--Kristen McHenry

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