Why You've Never Seen an Ad for Broccoli


A great ad from the Foodbank NYC. Not for broccoli.

In the wake of the fried chicken and bacon-y beast that is the Double Down, we now know that a grossly unhealthy product can be successfully marketed to the masses on strength of novelty alone. And it makes you consider the converse--why is marketing for healthy foods like fruit and produce nearly nonexistent? How come you've never seen an ad on TV for broccoli?Matthew Yglesias asked that question earlier today and has already sparked a (groan-worthy pun incoming ...) healthy debate.

It's Easy to Market Junk Food
The catalyst was a NY Times article about how companies market junk food to kids. From the piece:

"Despite the industry's self-regulatory system, the vast majority of food and entertainment companies have no protections in place for children," said Margo G. Wootan, the center's nutrition policy director. In the center's analysis of marketing to children, released last November, the highest grade, a B-plus, went to the candy maker Mars, which does not market to children under 12 and avoids other gimmicks that attract them.

"If companies were marketing bananas and broccoli, we wouldn't be concerned," Dr. Wootan said. "But instead, most marketing is for sugary cereals, fast food, snack foods and candy. And this junk-food marketing is a major contributor to childhood obesity."

Which led Yglesias to wonder why bananas and broccoli aren't being marketed to kids: "This stuff is sold in stores, in exchange for money. Presumably there are for-profit enterprises out there with a vested interest in selling more," he writes.

The question has garnered a number of responses from around the blogosphere, but the primary takeaway is that companies that sell, say, a certain cereal or fast food can brand their products to give them a market advantage. A single broccoli grower has a lot more difficulty doing so--if they were to advertise broccoli in general, they'd be advertising for their competitors as well.

How to Market Healthy Foods?
There is, as you're probably aware, a long history of bananas being marketed to Americans, but that was largely because there was one major banana company (first United Fruit, then renamed Chiquita Banana). And advertising bananas meant you'd most likely be buying that company's bananas (they also were able to put stickers on the bananas to brand them).

The Incidental Economist explains further:

the basic problem is that a banana or a broccoli crown are commodities. A single grower could promote its product but who looks for a specific brand of grape or tomato? (Some do, but not many.) The meat and dairy industries have solved the collective action problem so we have seen advertising for those products ("The other white meat." "Got milk?") The question is, why are some food industries able to organize and not others?
So if broccoli growers were able to unite (or even produce growers) to collectively advertise healthy veggies, we may see campaigns encouraging healthy eating of certain veggies. But a few problems remain--first, most Americans still don't seem to be too interested in eating too many vegetables, making such an advertising campaign risky. And that's largely because, second, profit margins are already very slim for many veggie growers. Which is of course partly because the US gov subsidizes corn and little else--healthy veggies get the shrift. Which is why a tomato and a small bag of Doritos cost about the same.

Needless to say, there's a whole can of worms to dig into here, but that's a start . . .

More on Food Marketing
Expert Says: Make Healthy Fast Food Affordable
Double Down: How KFC Sold America the Vilest Food Product Created by Man

Tags: Consumerism | Economics | United States

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