January 17, 2011

Clever Marketing

Maybe the title of this blog post is a little straight forward. It’s a bit like the saying, "Is the Pope Catholic?" or  “Do bears ..............?" Of course they do.

Are marketers clever? Of course they are. That’s their job remember!

I wanted to bring to your attention a couple of ads that I’ve recently spotted on the tv or on a billboard, which I think reflect the title of ‘clever marketing’. And I feel, as a dietitian, it’s MY job to stand up and give you the honest truth about these products, to reveal just how healthy, or unhealthy, they really are. 

 #1 Clever Ad: Nutri-Grain


Now yes, the marketers are right. Nutri-Grain is high in protein. It also contains essential vitamins and minerals. But let’s go back to basics and have a look at this cereal from an overall nutritional perspective. The shape and the fact that it looks highly processed is your first clue. This high level of processing means that dietary fibre and other essential vitamins and minerals are lost in the process, some are then added back in. Refined products generally have a higher glycaemic index (GI) and are lower in fibre. Nutri-Grain has a GI of 66 (moderate) and contains 2.7g fibre per 100g. Dietary fibre is a crucial nutrient in breakfast cereals as breakfast is one of the highest contributors to fibre intake throughout the day. Aim to choose a cereal that contains >6g/100g fibre. 

Other nutritional specifications not mentioned in the advertising campaign are its high sugar and salt content. Containing 9.6g of sugar per 30g (1 cup) serving of Nutri-Grain, this means that for every cup you have, there are 2 tsps of sugar already in that serving. Now, if most growing young lads are anything like my brother was, then their cereal bowl would probably be around double or triple that serving size. So for example a 90g serving of Nutri-Grain will contain almost 30g sugar, or 6 teaspoons! Not to mention if sugar is then added on top. Nutri-Grain also contains a surprising amount of added salt, with 600mg sodium per 100g. A good guide for breakfast cereals is to choose one with less than 400mg/100g sodium.

All in all, if you are striving to be an iron man, or maybe you just want to take care of your body and know that you are making a healthy breakfast choice, the best cereal choices are those that are low GI, wholegrain, minimally processed, low in saturated fat, with minimal added sugar and salt.

My recommendations: Natural mueslis (not with too much dried fruit) in the summer, and porridge (made on rolled oats, not quick oats) in the winter.

#2 Clever Ad: Subway - Win a Trip Around the World

This ad is clearly marketed to the young people of today. It’s the one where that young, messy haired surfy guy is sitting on the beach in his wetsuit talking about how if you buy a Coke with your sub, you could win a trip around the world.

And don’t forget, it’s gonna be epic.

I love this ad, the language, the actor, the competition, everything is perfectly suited and marketed to the target group, particularly those with the travel bug or those that need any excuse to get up and go overseas.

The fact of the matter is though, it’s just a sales pitch. They are luring you in to buy that Coke by waving that carrot at you, the very slim chance of winning a trip around the world. If you check out the Subway website they even have a page dedicated to the promotion and an interactive map of places where you could end up if you win the comp. 

My advice: Don’t get caught up with these promotions. Go have an epic journey overseas, you don’t need to drink Coke to get you there. Coke is not a drink that you should be having with your lunch, dinner, or any meal for that matter on a regular basis. The best fluid you can go for is water, it's calorie free, additive free, acid free and sugar free. It won't rot your teeth or expand the waistline. Now that’s a marketing campaign right there!

I think it’s also a little sneaky of Subway to have this campaign going, as Subway have always marketed itself as one of the ‘healthier’ take away choices ie. their slogans of "eat fresh" and "less than 6 grams of fat". Having a promotion with Coke goes against this principle and also gives young people the idea that it’s ok to have a soft drink with their lunch. This is not a habit you want to be getting into!

#3 Clever Ad: Vitamin Water

I once flew into Brisbane airport, walked off the plane, and in the distance I see a large billboard, with the words

“Spank Those Naughty Little Oxidants”


I must admit this billboard was quite amusing to me at first. I could imagine that some young hot shot marketing grad had come up with this one. Then I wondered how their marketing team had got away with this sexually derived billboard - had no one complained?

This advertising was for a product called Vitamin Water. It is a flavoured water that is marketed to Gen X & Y consumers who think it's cool to drink out of a bottle that apparently is 'healthier' than soft drinks as it contains 'vitamins'. Of course it does, that's why it's called Vitamin Water, right?

Does Vitamin Water contain vitamins?

Yes. The drink has been fortified with vitamins (vitamins have been mechanically added).

Does this mean it's healthy?

No. Now don't get me wrong, it's great that CocaCola (the company that makes Vitamin Water) wants to add vitamins to their beverages. Unfortunately, the drinks have very little nutritional value. The vitamins added are a great way to entice consumers to purchase the product, as it  looks healthy. They also come in a range of flavours, each a bright colour, that contains various properties which can be very appealing to the consumer. 

But when I tell you that a Vitamin Water has almost as much sugar as a can of coke, would you reconsider? Not only are these products ladden with sugar, they also have many additives such as artificial colours which in some studies have been linked to hyperactivity in children. Another 'additive' that is a selling point for these drinks is caffeine. 

These products also do not come cheap. A Vitamin Water I looked at purchasing for the purpose of this blog cost $3.59 for a 500mL bottle. When you compare this to tap water, which is free, or bottled water, at $2 per 600mL, water is clearly most cost effective option.

When you compare sugar, water comes in at 0g whilst Vitmain Water comes in at 27g (or 6 teaspoons!!) When you compare calories, water comes in at 0kJ whilst Vitamin Water comes in at 470kJ. Water is clearly the best choice

What about the antioxidant stuff?

'Spanking those naughty little oxidants', using the Vitamin Water language refers to the fact that these flavoured waters contain antioxidants, which act to reduce free radical or ‘oxidant’ damage in the body. However you don’t need to drink vitamin enhanced waters in order to get your antioxidants, and the Heart Foundation does not recommend it. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and drinking black or green tea is the best way to get your daily dose of antioxidants.

CHOICE Magazine also reviewed vitamin enhanced waters recently, and found that “they’re really just cordials with a few added vitamins. CHOICE recommends you treat them like any other sugary or artificial drink and enjoy only as an occasional treat.” Well said.

Now I hope I've set the story straight on a few products for you, I don't want you getting tricked by all those brilliant marketing gurus. If you've seen an ad and you want to know if it's all it's cracked up to be, let me know and i'll post an update! 

Until next time, stay epic and get spanking those oxidants.


January 10, 2011

The dreaded birthday cake

This afternoon at work I declined the offer of a slice of mud cake.

It was a birthday cake, to celebrate the big day for a colleague of mine, Cosmina. Happy birthday to you Cos, remember not long ago how old I told you you look! :)


Now we've all been in that situation. Birthdays are wonderful occasions, but for some it means facing moments of temptation and anxiety when it comes to being offered a slice of birthday cake.

Do I have to have a piece of cake because it's their birthday? Is it rude if I don't? What if I only have a small piece... that would be meeting them halfway. But why should I, if I'm going to feel guilty and fat afterwards? And if I ask for a slither is that bringing attention to myself and the fact that I'm trying to lose weight? I don't want to have any but I don't want to feel excluded by not having any!

Now I know many men reading this are probably thinking, geez, are you serious, just eat the damn cake! But these thoughts are very common, and can cause a lot of distress to people.

So after you have that debate in your mind about whether to have some cake or not, then come the thoughts about what you are going to say when you decline the offer. Isn't it funny that just saying "No thanks" doesn't seem to be enough, that we have to find a reason to justify why we are not going to choose to eat a food that is not recommended as part of a healthy diet anyway.

No thanks just doesn't seem to cut it

As birthdays come around every year we never run out of occasions to celebrate them. And what is a birthday's best friend, cake of course. Rarely is there a birthday celebration without cake. In fact, most celebrations do have some sort of cake or dessert. Think about it. Who has been to a wedding without a cake, an engagement without a cake, a christening without a cake, a kitchen tea without a cake. Anyone?


It really fascinates me to watch the social dynamics that go on during these sort of occasions and the discussion that arises. It stems from dieting, to waistlines, to new years resolutions, to calories. There's talk of "you can eat well tomorrow" and justification of why they should be allowed to eat the cake ie. "I went to the gym this morning." A comment I heard today was "It's a birthday cake, so I'm going to have a piece" (insinuating that they would have a piece as a mark of celebration of Cos' birthday), while another stated, "Sorry no thanks I'm watching my waistline, it's my new year's resolution". Another, our CEO, just simply stated, "No thanks I don't need it".

When I was asked if I would like a piece, I said "No thanks". I didn't add any excuse, I didn't make up a lie, I just said a simple "No thanks". It was amusing that someone responded back saying "Boring" and although said off the cuff as a joke, it was interesting that my decline came with a negative response. This is a very good example of the challenges that so many people face every day when it comes to sticking to their healthy eating plans. Saying no in a social situation is not an easy thing to do!



An article worth reading

I read a great article written by Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, who addresses this topic very well. It's called How to Handle Sabotage. Now as the article rightly states, many people do not intentionally mean to sabotage your diet, even though they actually can be.

Let's go back to today where we have the birthday cake at work and let's just imagine that instead of saying "No thanks", that I said, "No thanks, I'm trying to lose weight" (in all seriousness). Now I could bet my bottom dollar that someone would have responded with, "Don't be silly, you don't need to lose weight", or something similar. Now although these comments come spilling out of people's mouths uncontrollably (I even do it) to make that person feel better, what it's actually doing is sabotaging their efforts to lose weight. It's encouraging them to go against their mind and principles, and rebel against their healthy eating goals. Allan says that sabotage can also stem from a lack of knowledge, a lack of empathy or simple jealousy at your determination to improve your body and health.



This section of the article is especially great as it gives you some tips on what to say in different situations, and how to deal with really pushy people.

'If you have the kind of "helpful" friend who is constantly barraging you with pointless criticism, simplistic solutions for weight loss, and nosy questions about your food plan, try saying something like: "Actually, my approach to weight loss is working out well for me at the moment, but thanks anyway." That ought to get the “butt out!” point across, without sounding too harsh.'

'If saying no just doesn’t work, and the food is still plunked down in front of you, be strong in your resolve; leave the food there and don’t eat it. You might feel a bit rude, but let’s face it, a person who simply refuses to listen to you is ruder!'




Here are a couple of ideas for what you can say in the future when the occasion arises if "no thanks" will just not cut the mustard.

  • No thanks, I've just eaten lunch
  • No thanks, I'm watching my waistline
  • No thanks, I don't eat cake. I'm just not a cake person. 
  • No thanks, that's a little too rich for me
  • No thanks, I'm being good
  • No thanks, I'm actually not a fan of _______ cake, I prefer _____.
  • No thanks, it looks delcious but I just can't fit anything more in

I hope this post gives those of you out there a little more confidence and some strategies to put into practice when it comes to dealing with social pressure. I think it's important that we can acknowledge how difficult these situations can be and although a difficult skill to master, saying no is one that you will need to conquer in order to stay on track with your health and wellness goals.