Recently I came across a fascinating article about an effort to brand baby carrots as “junk food”.
“Bolthouse Farms sells nearly a billion pounds of carrots a year… The company has been around for nearly a century now, but it boomed in the 1990s, with a breakthrough product… baby carrots were a hit… The really big deal, the thing nobody expected, was that baby carrots seemed to make Americans eat more carrots. In the decade after they were introduced, carrot consumption in the United States doubled.
Then a couple of years ago, after a decade of steady growth, Bolthouse’s carrot sales went flat… So the company brought in Jeff Dunn, the former head of Coca-Cola’s businesses in North and South America.
Dunn was clear: He didn’t want a health campaign, one that talked about beta carotene or cutting calories. He wanted something more emotional, maybe something funny, something that appealed to impulse rather than responsibility — the kind of thing a soft-drink or snack-food company might do.
[The ad agency] unveiled storyboards with concepts for a series of winking, self-aware junk-food ads. One ad featured a baby-carrot-branded spray tan, endorsed by Snooki, the star of MTV’s Jersey Shore… In another, a sultry model, surrounded by billowing black silk, runs a carrot slowly across her lips as a voice-over purrs about indulgence — think Dove chocolates. The best one seemed inspired by a Mountain Dew commercial. A skater dude rides a jet-powered shopping cart through a desert pass, dodging baby-carrot gunfire. Things blow up. There’s a pterodactyl. "Extreme pterodactyl!" the voice-over yells."
"People will say, ‘You open the bag, it’s just baby carrots.’ Well, it’s just Lay’s potato chips, it’s just Doritos, there’s nothing special about them," he says. "They’re just cool and part of your life. If Doritos can sell cheeseburger-flavored Doritos, we can sell baby carrots."
By November, sales in Bolthouse’s test markets were up 10% to 12% over the year before, compared to minimal improvement or slight decline in a control group.”
In the article, Dunn reflects on his conflicted feelings about having promoted high consumption of Coca-Cola and the direct link between soft drinks and obesity. It is clear that he sees his effort to promote a healthy product, at the expense of true junk foods, as a kind of redemption process.
The article got me thinking about the most effective way to promote philanthropy. For the last hundred years Americans have given about 2% of income to charity. This percentage has been remarkably consistent during good times and bad. Maybe the key to increasing the amount given to charity is to get away from the “give because it is good for you” (good for your soul, good for others, something you “should” do) approach and embrace a philanthropy as junk food mentality?
Is the fast growing Kiva.org, that addictive little website that has captured the hearts and minds of 500,000 Americans from every walk of life, a sort of philanthropy junk food (I’ve called Kiva a gateway drug to social finance in the past).
Studies show that giving to charity triggers the same neural pathways as drugs, chocolate and sex so maybe marketing philanthropy as a junk food isn’t false advertising but actually closer to the truth than the moralistic “it is the right thing to do” approach that is so often preached.
I’m not convinced in the least that a philanthropy as junk food marketing approach would succeed or is even the right thing to do.
But it sure is intriguing…