Promises, Promises!

A billboard sign caught my eye this morning as I headed toward downtown:

The product’s claim?  Warmth . . . Happiness . . . Joy!

As I said, it caught my eye.  After all, I’m very pro-warmth, happiness, and joy.  And, I must admit, the very alluring picture of a creamy, steamy, yummy winter beverage with whipped cream and caramel on it probably turned my head just a bit too!  Somewhere in McDonald’s marketing office, I had visions of a little bell going off and an electronic sign that clicked up one digit as I passed by:  “6 billion heads turned – one more potential sale.”

The product that deserves such high profile advertising is the new Caramel Mocha from McDonald’s.  It is “sweet caramel, rich chocolate and smooth expresso, topped with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.”   And apparently it is also warmth, happiness, and joy.

Warmth?  Yes, I’m sure they can meet that expectation.  Happiness?  Hmm.  I guess it depends on how you define the word.  Short-term pleasure is perhaps a more accurate term.  I set higher standards for happiness.  What about joy?  That is an ambitious claim for a fancy cup of coffee! I just googled the word “joy”, and the definition I found was “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness”.  Wow!  If I could actually get that from a drive-thru for $2.29, I would be all for it.

Even though I know that a beverage cannot possibly deliver what McDonald’s promises, this type of marketing is often successful.  Although we could dispute the meaning of the words “happiness” and “joy”, the fact is that warm, sweet, creamy foods can act as chemical “uppers” by playing with brain chemistry.

In a way, we get what we are promised – in the short term.   But what about the long-term effect on health if pleasure foods are the major source of our warmth, happiness, and joy?  The nutrition information is not yet available for this little pleasure bomb, but my guess is that the small (12 ounce) size is about 450 calories, the medium (16 ounce) is about 550 calories, and the large (20 ounce) is about 650 calories.  When the actual numbers are released, I can assure you that the values for saturated fat and sugar are high as well.

There is nothing wrong with splurging on a Caramel Mocha from McDonald’s once in a while if it fits into the context of a relatively healthy lifestyle overall.  Pleasure is a good thing.  Health problems arise when we expect food to meet needs that food is not intended to meet.  In reality, food is an inadequate band-aid when compared with real warmth, happiness, and joy.

Food marketers know that selling overly stimulating food (high in fat, sugar, and/or salt) is easy when their target market is over-stressed and looking for comfort.  It is no coincidence that terms like “warmth”, “happiness”, and “joy” are used to describe a hot beverage.  These claims work because we all want these feelings, yet many people are having a hard time balancing life.  A quick “fix” that is easy and cheap is simply too tempting.  So what if it doesn’t do more than give temporary relief?  The extra weight and health issues are not usually immediate.  You can see how easy it is to take the bait.

I get it.  I really do.  But I also know that it isn’t working for people.  If you see yourself in this situation – relying on quick fixes too often – here is my challenge for you:  Just notice what you are doing and what you are really getting.  Know that food marketers are savvy and their goal is making money.  Realize that when you eat foods that are intended for pleasure only, you can only get temporary pleasure – that’s all.  You will not get any kind of lasting peace or happiness.  Notice how you feel afterward.  Is that pleasurable?

If a little temporary pleasure is exactly what you decide you want, then you will get what you expect.  If you are looking for more, there are calorie-free ways to get more pleasure out of life.  I’m not saying that you should not eat whatever you want.  I just want you to get what you expect from your food.  Then you will not be disappointed.

Joy to all!

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One response to “Promises, Promises!

  1. Pingback: Food Marketing Vs. Your Health | Kim the Dietitian’s Weblog

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