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The Circle of Life…Corporate Life…

September 2, 2010

Pop Tarts World

I have been trying to process the news about Pop Tarts World into a blog entry that makes sense.  You see, from an entirely corporate point of view, Pop Tarts World makes a lot of sense.  Not only do they get a spot on Times Square with a massive foot traffic, but also, and more importantly, they received reports in the New York Times and Fox News, amongst the millions of media outlets who ran their press release (I would not say reported on it, because what happened wasn’t reporting).  This is a great value for them and I am sure their stock went up.  But the real question is, ‘Is this a great value for us?’ How do we understand a business culture in which good business decisions result in an unhealthier citizenry?

I think to understand this relationship and how it effects us all, we need to change our point of view so we can see a bigger picture.

The Rise of Kellogg’s

Pop Tarts is a division of Kellogg’s, a publicly traded company.  It goes under the stock symbol K on the New York Stock Exchange.  It is currently trading at 51.06 per share.  10 years ago it traded at about 23.10 per share.  Pop Tarts are a very successful brand/division of the Kellogg’s company.  Originally released in 1964 in response to a product released by Post called Country Squares, the better named Pop Tarts (taking advantage of the pop art movement at the time) took off.  In fact, they were so popular Kellogg’s could not keep up with demand.

In 1967 Kellogg had developed a ‘frosting’ that could withstand the heat of the toaster, and the first frosted pop tarts appeared (although litigation ensued, starting in 1992 when it was shown that if left unattended in a toaster too long, pop tarts could create flames over a foot high).

Originally only 4 flavours-strawberry, blueberry, sugar cinnamon and apple current-there are now 28. So, as can be seen the pop tart isn’t a static object, but a constantly ‘improving’ brand, always looking at ways to increase its share of the Kellogg’s empire’s profits. From the New York Times:

Kellogg’s said Pop-Tarts had been a strong performer in the most recent quarter, but its net sales were smaller than those of M&M’s and Hershey. In the last year, Kellogg’s sold $481 million worth of Pop-Tarts in mass United States stores (excluding Wal-Mart), according to market-research firm SymphonyIRI Group. Hershey sold $1.07 billion worth of candy, while M&M’s sold $753 million.

“Our long-term hope is to strengthen the bonding between the brand and the consumer, and that has great benefits for the brand,” Mr. Patout said.

The connection to M&M’s and Hershey’s is more than just the acknowledgment that these three brands are all candy, but more importantly because Pop Tarts has just taken a page out of the candy makers advertising strategies (They both apparently have stores in Times Square).  You see, only so much can be done in the factory to get you excited about products.  Most of the work of increasing a corporations profits comes from marketing.

The Rise of Marketing

I have described marketing in this blog as ‘polishing a turd’, but obviously that is overstated.  Marketing is simply the increasing of awareness to the public of a product by any means available, ideally connecting it with positive connotations.  As much as the stock of Kellogg’s has grown over the years, so have the techniques of marketing.  For years, things were relatively stable as we began to understand just how powerful marketing was.  Television, radio and print media dominated.  Those really were your only three marketing options for decades.  Certain restrictions on advertising, mainly hard liquor and cigarettes, allowed for sporting events to be branded by these companies for awhile, but otherwise, it was the big three.  Along came the internet and everything changed.  For awhile it just added a new stream to marketing, and you had the big four, tv, print, radio and web, but that didn’t last for long.  Soon, products were being featured in paid for blogs without anyone knowing who was paying for the blogs, the news media started regurgitating press releases instead of producing news, and millions of unique, small events could become sponsored.  All of these techniques and many more meant that guerrilla marketing was here to stay.

Obviously guerrilla marketing has been around a lot longer, but there is something more pernicious and mainstream about it now.  It is part of any companies marketing strategy, not a wild idea any longer, but instead, business as usual.

Why is this modest and hardly adequate dissertation on marketing important?  Because Pop Tarts has always been at the forefront of the changes to marketing and its value in our culture.  Pop Tarts beat out Country Square because of the naming and a cartoon toaster named ‘Milton’.  This was back in the early 60’s, almost 50 years ago.  Since then they have convinced us that Pop Tarts should be part of our breakfast because they are easy and quick in the morning and given our fast paced world, who has time for a healthy breakfast.

In fact, the marketing departments of the big food companies are so far off in their own world, improperly labeling foods that we should probably avoid as ‘part of a healthy diet’, that the lawyers are having pretend that the marketers were just kidding us…  In the most brazen and disturbing twist in the ‘sugary juice’ marketed as healthy ‘Vitamin Water’ saga, the lawyers for Coca Cola responded that ‘no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitamin water was a healthy beverage.’

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

The company (Coca Cola) claims that vitaminwater variously reduces the risk of chronic disease, reduces the risk of eye disease, promotes healthy joints, and supports optimal immune function, and uses health buzz words such as “defense,” “rescue,” “energy,” and “endurance” on labels.

Ya, how could anyone think that is healthy.  In fact in an earlier post about how unhealthy Vitamin Water is, I pointed out the following reasons that I thought were especially agregious in attempting to make the sugar water appear healthy:

The package includes the following attempts to sound like a health product:

  • Recommended dose: Take one 591ml bottle per day as needed.
  • It breaks ingredients down into medicinal and non-medicinal
  • Nutrient enhanced water beverage

Now the lawyers are seriously arguing that nobody would believe the ‘lies’ of the marketing department for the very same company that they work for.  Whatever the case, here is a company that is trying to take your health and money away from you, using any tactic possible.  Even when the marketing department oversteps legal decency, the companies still try to trade your money and health for their substandard products.

Times Square: PackagedFoodLand

This marketing isn’t limited to candy companies and pop companies either.  Burger King has now launched a Burger Bar in Times Square.  Included in the offerings are a NY Pizza Burger.  The idea of course was to get the most calories into one menu item (2530 calories) and in so doing, get the false outrage of all media outlets focused into fingers typing madly on keyboards around the internet, which would in turn output story after story about this hideous monstrosity.  In reality though it is just a big burger (4 patties) spread out on a very large bun that is cut into six pieces.  Whatever. Our fascination about bad foods is part of our national culture and like a trainwreck we cannot turn away from another, bigger burger.  So the companies make foods that are worse for us, media outlets report on them and we reward these companies with more mind share and in turn higher profits.  It is sad, but it makes a lot of people a lot of money.

David Zinczenko gets another list for his franchise of useless books, Eat This Not That-an annual Craziest Food Creations list-and like the puritanical zealot fighting to stamp out pornography, all the while salivating over every scene, David Zinczenko can warn us about this food abomination, all the while excited to be able to offer a ‘Double Down’ as an ‘Eat That Instead’ choice.

So, as Times Square becomes a theme park for unhealthy food choices, a real life food lab, and families clamor for any cheep entertainment, including Kellogg’s pathetic laser light show and make believe ‘you are a pop tart’ lighting (an add on to their Times Square store so week and feeble that Donald Trump would fire an entire team of celebrity apprentices if they came up with an idea so pale and vapid), we all feed an industry that is literally killing us.

Our Role

We don’t hold them responsible, because, well, marketing doesn’t work on us, they have to make money, and Pop Tarts and Coca Cola were part of our youth, they can’t be bad.  If you ever had to wonder what a soulless, greedy corporate environment would look like, we are getting close.  We need to remember that these companies don’t like us.  It isn’t that they dislike us or anything, but more that they care as little for us as they do an ant crossing unnoticed under their feet.  As long as their bottom line continues to grow, they don’t care if they make us sick or kill us.  If you understand this when you look at the ads and the regurgitated press releases, you are on your way to getting fitter.  When you see a report of another fun store opening in times square to share with you some great food experience, remember, they are really just looking for free publicity and to strengthen their brand (which again is an attempt to make you eat their foods because you like the company).  If you can see the man behind the curtain it makes it a hell of a lot easier to see the wrong that they are doing.  The next time you see a celebrity or professional athlete shilling for these people, remember what a pathetic, sell-out this person is, forever giving up the quality of being a role model.  Don’t think of these companies or celebrities as friends any longer.  They crossed a line, they don’t think of you as anything but a ‘mark’ to scam money off of you.

In a fair society, a decent society that cared for its citizens, all of these people would honestly be in jail.  They are knowingly doing the public harm just to increase their wealth.  We aren’t that society right now, hopefully we will be once again.  I don’t know.  I do know that in the meantime we need to see the circle of corporate life as part of the problem in this battle with obesity.  Maybe you were smart enough to see Vitamin Water as a scam, and maybe you see Pop-Tarts for what they are.  Maybe you are immune to marketing.  Maybe.  But you know what, most people aren’t.  Companies know the value of marketing.  They have spent millions of dollars doing secret research to tell them exactly how to get the public to buy their product.  If that includes lies about health benefits or stores in Times Square, and make no mistake, it does, then they will do just that.  They know that marketing will get many of us to make terrible choices and they are happy to exploit that.  So, even if you are aware of these scams, don’t defend the companies with claims that ‘you can read the ingredients on the package’ and so on.  You really are just doing the companies work for them, as they divide sugar into three separate versions, including ‘organic evaporated cane juice’, Dextrose, and White Grape Juice, allowing the individual smaller amounts to let them go lower in the ingredients list, when added together as sugar they would be at the top.

*Please note that the main image is a poster made by Zakhren Subang and is posted on the following website.  It is posted without permission here.

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