With the release of a bacon and cheese sandwich with fried chicken as the “bread,” this year has seen no shortage of over-the-top new foods. But none of these compare to the ultimate in extreme new foods: Baby carrots.
“Baby carrots” and “extreme” are hardly words you’d think to find in the same sentence. But judging from the launch of a $25 million dollar marketing campaign, “xtreme” is just what carrot farmers want them to be.
“Eat ‘em like junk food” is the campaign’s slogan. Ironically, this campaign to increase vegetable consumption is trying to beat potato chip and cookie marketers at their own game. Instead of focusing on the healthy angle (what kid cares about calories?), carrot pushers hope to make their product “cool.”
The campaign is replete with its own YouTube channel (with hundreds of thousands of views) and even an iPhone game. One commercial for baby carrots features a helmeted man in a shopping cart taking heavy fire from a baby-carrot-shooting chain gun. Heavy rock music blares.
And who says baby carrots can’t be hip for adult men, too? Another commercial features a sultry temptress and baby carrots and…well, you get the picture.
As action-packed and over-the-top as the new carrot crusade is, this campaign also has serious implications for our nation’s obesity epidemic.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis, just 26.3 percent of people met the government’s vegetable consumption recommendation. That number is down slightly from 2000. (Carrot use fell from 18 pounds per capita in 1997 to 10 pounds in 2009.)
Some groups have reached for the low-hanging fruit of solutions in the Battle of the Bulge: government intervention. Famous “food police” groups and naysayers like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) want the government to restrict or ban marketing of certain foods to kids.
This push took a ridiculous turn this summer, when one California county voted to ban toys with kids’ meals at restaurants—essentially taking the “happy” out of “Happy Meal.” San Francisco is considering a citywide restriction.
CSPI, of course, was overjoyed. Its litigation director recently warned that allowing toys in kids’ meals means that “children will pester their parents to take them to McDonald’s.” Well, duh. Kids like the taste of burgers and fries, toy or no toy. Pestering is a kid’s modus operandi for just about anything.
Never mind that parents are supposed to be, well, parents. They already know what their kids are eating — they’re the ones driving to restaurants or supermarkets and plunking down their cold, hard cash.
Further, there’s absolutely no evidence that banning toys — or food advertising generally— does anything to curb childhood obesity.
Bans have been tried elsewhere to little avail. Sweden banned ads targeting kids under 12 in 1991. Over a decade later, the BBC reported that obesity rates there were similar to those in the UK, which had no such restrictions. The same was true for Quebec (with ad bans) compared to the rest of Canada (without). And one 2007 study determined that 10-year-old Swedish girls had become 5 times more likely to be obese than twenty years earlier—before the ad ban took effect.
So where do baby carrots fit into the fray? First Amendment concerns aside, the campaign to control commercials lacks the very thing the baby carrot promotion excels at: innovation in co-opting the tactics of its unhealthy competitors.
Cornell University researchers discovered last year that referring to carrots as “x-ray vision carrots”—a much spiffier name—increased consumption among preschoolers by 62 percent. It stands to reason that slapping Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob on a slick packet of veggies has a good chance of gaining new young converts.
Whether the campaign for baby carrots ends up winning hearts and minds (and stomachs) is yet to be seen. But this is one fight where the Ministry of Censorship can stay on the sidelines.