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Advertising of Food


ADVERTISING OF FOOD. The word "advertising" is derived from the French avertissement, a giving notice or announcement. An advertisement is information that is publicly communicated through mass communication. The business of advertising is an aspect of commerce that is an integrated part of industrialized and affluent societies that can afford to purchase goods. Advertising brings notice to a wide range of consumer products, including food, a major consumer of advertising. In the United States in the 1990s, food and beverages together formed the most heavily advertised type of product: approximately 40 to 50 percent of television commercials are for food products, amounting to between ten and fifteen commercials every hour. Advertising takes place at a number of levels in the food marketing chain. Advertisementsads in the United States and adverts in Britainmay be issued by manufacturers individually or as a group, by a marketing board representing a generic product, and by wholesalers, retailers, and distributors.

Although advertising has a long history, modern advertising began with the invention of printing in the sixteenth century. Early advertisements for foods, which were presented alongside those for books, medicines, cures, and remedies, tended to be for foods and drinks that were at first consumed by the upper classes. English weeklies first reported coffee in 1652, chocolate in 1657, and tea in 1658. The widespread expansion of print advertising did not take place until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its spread was stimulated and encouraged by changing and developing trade patterns, especially the rail network and the improvement of roads. Improved means of transportation allowed for the expansion of extended regional and national trade networks. As the production of goods increased, they had to be more efficiently and effectively distributed and marketed. As much of the early advertising was contained in print media, the spread of literacy, together with the steep rise in the development of newspapers and magazines, especially after 1850, stimulated its development. It is in the last hundred years that advertising has developed into a major industry. So important has it become that it is central to the production of general communications and provides the economic basis that enables them to exist. It is also central to the development and existence of many products.

Functions of Advertising

Advertising has a number of functions. It is used to launch new food products. The advertising campaign for Nescafé instant coffee granules in the 1950s allowed it to gain a foothold in a market that had strong competition from other brands such as Maxwell House, "America's favorite coffee." It is used to extend the sale of products that are already established in the marketplace. In 1956 the advertising campaign for the biscuit Snack, manufactured by Cadbury, caused an immediate increase in sales. Although its initial impact was not maintained, sales remained higher than the earlier unadvertised level for a year or so, even when there was almost no advertising support given to it. Advertising is used to promote the growth of a product. A marketing campaign for Callard & Bowser Butterscotch in 1959 and 1960 caused its consumption to expand by around 20 percent. Advertising also created a continued demand for a product when the original need to consume it had become redundant due to changing social and economic conditions. Bovril, fluid beef, was developed in the 1870s as a convalescence food and was later used as an energy food on expeditions and during sporting events. With higher incomes, better eating, changing drinking habits (for example, the increased consumption of coffee over tea, and the popularity of carbonated, or "fizzy," drinks), and the availability of new drinks, the original rationale for the consumption of Bovril had declined by the postWorld War II years. An advertising campaign was introduced to remove the idea that it was an old-fashioned drink and to suggest that it was a "contemporary" one. Advertising has been used to slow down the decline in the consumption of a product. When milk consumption was falling in the postwar period in Britain, especially in the mid-1950s, the National Milk Publicity Campaign succeeded in slowing down the rate of decline and in introducing new outlets that served to stimulate consumption.

Costs of Advertising

Large sums of money are spent on food advertising. In Great Britain in 1999 the top food advertiser was Mars, a confectionery firm, which spent $99,488,921 (£63,629,000) on its advertising; the second, spending $82,966,590 (£53,062,000), was Kelloggs (GB), followed by the supermarket chain J. Sainsbury with $76,846,990 (£49,151,000). The top brand was McDonald's fast-food restaurants, which spent $66,260,524 (£42,379,000). Other highly advertised brands include the other fast-food restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken $19,279,797 (£12,331,000) and Burger King $17,604,550 (£11,259,000). Among the high food advertisers were supermarkets that promoted both their stores and their branded products. Sainsbury's was the top supermarket brand ($45,528,848, or £29,118,000) followed by Tesco ($28,564,912, or £18,286,000), then Asda ($25,034,171, or £16,010,000).

As these figures suggest, not all foodstuffs are advertised to the same extent. In Britain in 1999, highly advertised foods include cereal products, confectionery, ice cream, potato crisps, snacks and nuts, margarine, lowfat spreads, and cheese. By comparison, small sums are spent on herbs and spices, excluding pepper and curry. Advertising-to-sales ratios vary greatly between products. For herbs and spices and fresh vegetables the figure may be as low as 0.06 percent and 0.07 percent respectively. Many foods had less than a 1 percent ratio. Intensive advertising at 11.31 percent was noted for cereals. Generally, advertising of food products shows a lower percentage of expenditure than that of other products, including alcoholic drinks and tobacco.

Advertising Media

Food is advertised through a number of channels. As new technologies have become available, the opportunities for advertising have broadened. A number of these are especially important. Newspapers and magazines have long been a significant vehicle for advertising. Newspapers in Britain published advertisements in the seventeenth century, and, as the provincial press expanded, greater opportunities became available for food advertising. In the later nineteenth century, magazines increasingly started to carry advertisements: In the United States in the 1930s, some 20 percent of products advertised in the major print advertising media of women's and domestic magazines were for food and drink products. When radio networks were established (in 1926 and 1927 in the United States), they used advertising to bring in revenue. Food and drink manufacturers sponsored programs and also advertised their products in short "commercial breaks." In the 1950s television introduced a further medium that owes its effectiveness to the wide range of means that can be used to promote a product: moving pictures, sound (voice and music), and the written word. In the late twentieth century the introduction and extended use of the World Wide Web and e-commerce had an enormous initial growth. In the United Kingdom, growth rates for online marketing since the mid-1990s have been consistently well in excess of 100 percent, year after year. Internet advertising is undertaken through a number of means. In the year 2000, the majority (81 percent) of advertising took place through banners, and small numbers through sponsorship (9 percent), classified advertisements (7 percent), and other means (3 percent). Internet advertising includes sites from manufacturers, product manufacturing boards, supermarkets (which allow for online shopping and home delivery), and food enthusiast sites (for example, for British products in the United States).

Other media have provided further means of advertising food. Billboards and hoardings were first used for this purpose in Britain in the 1890s and are found over a wide geographical area. Light displays in cities, such as those for the carbonated drink Irn-Bru in Glasgow and Coca-Cola in London, have presented advertisements as visual images within central cityscapes. Buses and electric cars (especially since the 1890s in the United States) have carried advertising, usually on their sides or rear. Manufacturers advertise their products on their distribution vans; some also have special promotional vehicles that they use in campaigns where they take their product to public places or special shows to advertise it. Sponsorship of major public popular and sporting events is undertaken by a number of manufacturers. Flora margarine, made from sunflower oil, which is high in essential polyunsaturates, has been the sponsor of the London marathon in the late 1990s; the Bell's open golf championship is sponsored by Bell's, the whiskey manufacturer.

Advertising and promotion of foods is undertaken within the retail industry. Fancy displays draw attention to one or a range of products. In Britain, displays from the 1860s included decorative tins with hinged lids developed by the biscuit manufacturer Huntley and Palmers of Reading. As self-service supermarkets developed, largely after World War II, products could be displayed to draw special attention to them. Three-dimensional displays promoted a single product or a range, and tended to be developed by manufacturers. Supermarkets sometimes hold special testing events where customers can sample a product, thereby encouraging them to buy it. Food is also sold in special promotional packets, sometimes at a "special introductory price" or a "special promotional price." These may hold a sample of the product that can be packaged in a way that reflects the packaging on the regular-sized product.

A range of ephemeral material is distributed to food wholesalers and retailers by manufacturers and others involved in processing and distribution. Some of this, including calendars, pens, and pads of headed note paper, is intended to remind the consumer of the product on a daily basis.

Coupons, which allow the consumer to receive a discount on the product when they present one to a retailer, are found in a range of print media, especially newspapers and magazines.

The medium that is used to advertise a product is selected for its appropriateness to that product, the nature and scope of the advertising campaign, and its desired target audience. Each medium has its own values and qualities. When television started to become widely adopted in Britain in the mid-1950s, Bird's Eye decided to use this new medium to advertise its frozen food products. The company was aware that families with televisions were more likely to be interested in new ideas such as Bird's Eye's products. At that time it was recognized that there was a potentially large market for frozen food, which was a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1920s daily newspapers were best suited to advertise foods and other products that were bought on a regular basis. Magazines that were to be read by a particular social class or group carried advertisements for foods and other products that would likely be consumed by them.

Advertising Targets

Much food advertising is targeted at women, the main buyers of food in the household. As children are recognized as important persuaders in that process and as they may accompany their mothers to buy the family food, advertising is also targeted at them. Recent studies of food advertising in South Africa show the need of advertisers to monitor social changes because food advertising, like advertising in general, reflects social and cultural trends, values, and attitudes. Cultural differences are also reflected in advertising. Chinese television advertisements tend to signify family values, tradition, and technology, whereas themes in American advertisements tend to symbolize the importance of enjoyment, cost savings, and individualism. With the emergence of global culture, specific values such as global cosmopolitanism and modernity (often symbolized by the hamburger) will be spread around the world.

Food advertising reflects changing food tastes, diet, and dietary habits. The extent of the references to nutrition, health claims, and weight loss has altered in advertisements in recent decades. Research has indicated that in the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s there was an increase in references to health and weight loss in advertisements for hot and cold cereals, bread and cake mixes, frozen and pre-prepared entrees, peanut butter, canned and instant dry soup, and carbonated beverages in a range of women's magazines. There was a significant rise in health claims in the 1980s, higher than in the 1960s, and the percentage of diet claims that appeared in food advertisements in the 1980s was significantly higher than the percentage reported in the 1960s and 1970s. At the same time, between 1960 and 1980, there were substantial decreases in claims of quality, taste, status, and consumer satisfaction. These may have resulted from changes in women's consumption and dieting behavior and the increased demand for food that is low in calories but high in nutrition. Concerns about increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States and campaigns against fast-food artificialityboth within the United States and beyondwill likely influence food advertising.

Brand Names

Central to the advertising of food is the promotion of brand names and trade names that distinguish between one manufacturer's product and that of another. As the survival of these names depends on advertising, some brands and trade names have large advertising budgets allocated to them so that they can maintain their status as products and their place in the marketplace. Brands and trade names arose in the nineteenth century as a response to increased production and the need to efficiently and effectively market products. Brand names started to be promoted in the 1870s, after which their use spread quickly. Significant increases were especially noted in the early twentieth century. Even after they were rapidly adopted, the extent of their use varied geographically and throughout time. During World War II, when widespread restrictions caused materials and food shortages, brand names were abandoned in Europe and were replaced by utility products. They came into operation again once peacetime conditions were restored. In some cases this was not until well after all controls on food and other raw products were lifted. Especially developed in Western Europe, brand names were, however, prohibited in Eastern Europe.

Brand names and trademarks are consciously devised by manufacturers. They are based on existing names, mainly personal names or words, or a combination of the two; few have no recognizable origin. The most common are word names that include personal names of manufacturers such as Nestlé (confectionery manufacturer) and Campbell's (the soup manufacturer), names of food-chain stores (Safeway), and the names of food products such as Mother's Pride (bread). Arbitrary names include Saxa table salt. Names often have an association with prestige and a range of desirable attributes, such as quality (Ambrosia rice pudding); wholesomeness (Eden Vale dairy products, Just Juice tropical fruit juices, and Lean Cuisine low-calorie frozen foods); and nutritional value (Marathon confectionery bars). Other names describe ingredients, as with Coca-Cola, a drink made from coca leaves and cola nuts, and Bovril, a drink of concentrated essence of beef.

Each brand name has a number of functions: it ensures consistency and quality; it has a personality that makes the consumers identify with the product; it is a social and cultural marker that helps the consumers to identify who they are and the social group they belong to; it allows the consumers to gain esteem within their consumer group. These values or aspects of them are reflected in advertising campaigns and advertisements.

Because of the importance of brands and trademarks in identifying foods and other products, they have become legally protected. The first protective legislation in the United States was passed by Congress in 1870. It was altered with different juridical rulings and received its final codification in 1905. Legislation has also been introduced throughout the world. In Britain it has included the Trade Marks Act of 1938.

Food advertisements use a range of appeals to promote a product. Rational appeals tend to be used for healthy foods. Emotional appeals, which are more likely to be remembered, are used for a range of products that includes fun products, or "sin foods," such as candy or desserts. Taste claims are especially important. Products are compared with similar products in side-by-side tests that point out the qualities their competition does not have (for example, the "Pepsi challenge"); these tests distinguish the product from its competitors by the ways in which it is beneficial to the consumer or puts the consumer at an advantage over those who do not use the product. Further, these tests suggest that the product is like an advertised brand in some way; they refer to the competition, state that the brand is at least as good as any other in a set, and they use experts to endorse the quality, taste, or value of the product so that it is given a heightened status. Nutritional claims are used particularly in advertisements for foods that benefit health and have health-giving qualities. Such claims may state that a product is "low" or reduced in calories, that it is "cholesterol-free" or has "reduced cholesterol"; food and drinks may be "lite" to distinguish them from standard foods. In the United States and some other countries, there are regulations governing the allowable fat content in foods billed as "low fat" and "reduced fat."

Especially for branded foods, advertisements often use slogans to help the consumer remember the product. They link the product and its function. For many years, the slogan for the Mars candy bar has suggested that it gives the consumer energy to undertake a range of activities throughout the day: "A Mars a day helps you work, rest, and play." The slogan "Bridge that gap with Cadbury's Snack" suggested that the biscuit could be eaten to fill in the gap between meals.

Celebrity Endorsements

Food advertisers use a range of figures who enjoy public recognition to endorse or act as spokespeople for a product and recommend it to the public. Especially after 1920 advertisers were aware of the relationship between popular culture idols and their audiences. Important early endorsers included movie stars and popular entertainers. The list was later extended to include television stars and individuals from occupations such as politics, sports, the arts, and business. In an endorsement, an endorser makes the product familiar to the public. It can be done in a number of ways: explicitly ("I endorse the product"); implicitly ("I use this product"); imperatively ("You should use the product"); and copresently (where the endorser appears with the product). In an endorsement, celebrities transfer meaning from themselves (their values, status, class, gender, age, personality, and lifestyle) to the product, and through it, to the consumer. Through that process, people consume a product that is associated with the star and their star image. Celebrities are chosen to represent values that are embodied in the product they endorse. The comedian Bill Cosby endorsed the soft drink Coca-Cola. Although there is a close relationship between the star and the product, not all star and product relations have successfully increased product sales. John Houseman failed as an endorser for McDonald's although he had been successful in other endorsement campaigns. Endorsements fail when they do not succeed in transferring meaning: the values between the celebrity and the product are too wide for the meaning to move between the endorser and the product.

Controls on Advertising

All food advertising is governed by a number of controls. Some of these regulate advertising in general. Defamatory statements, false representations, offers to contract, incitements to crime, contempt of court, breach of copyright, and infringement of trademarks are covered by legislation that governs libel, deceit, contracts, crime, and the infringements of rights. More specifically, in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, legislation included the Indecent Advertisements Act of 1889 and the Advertisements Regulation Act of 1907, which was amended in 1925. At a wider level, the general law also affects all advertisements.

Codes of advertising have been issued as guidelines to advertisers. In the United States from 1911, steps were taken to provide codes of practice. Early codes were issued by the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World. Guidelines have also been expressed in a number of codes such as the British Code of Advertising. The Code, issued in 1979, embodies the principles that "all advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful"; "all advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility both to the consumer and to society"; and "all advertisements should conform to the principles of fair competition as generally accepted in business." The codes contain specific rules that govern food advertising, packaging, and labeling of foodstuffs. They define how foods can be described and the nature and scope of the nutritional information presented on the packaging. Nutritional information has become increasingly widespread in the European Community and the United States. In Britain, sections of the Customs and Excise Act 1952 prohibit misdescription in advertisements of beer and spirits. The Food and Drugs Act (as subsequently amended) contains certain requirements as to advertising and labeling of food. A number of regulations deal specifically with the representation of food claims. Diet foods are particularly regulated, for example in the 1970 British Labeling of Food Regulations, which require that "where a claim is made in an advertisement or on a label that any food is an aid to slimming, it must be substantiated, and a statement must be included that the food cannot aid slimming except as part of a diet in which the total intake of calories is controlled, whether by calorie counting, low carbohydrate/high protein or other means." Other aspects of "slimming" that are regulated include diet plans, aids to dieting, foods, appetite depressants, and weight-loss products in general. Parallel regulations and advertising codes have also been introduced in other countries such as the United States. In the 1980s in the United States, consumer protection remained the major rationale for the regulation of advertising. Other forces included new media technologies, issues of privacy and fairness, environmentalism, religion, changing economic conditions, the deregulation movement, and foreign regulatory initiatives made necessary by international trade agreements.

See also Anorexia, Bulimia ; Food Marketing: Alternative (Direct) Strategies ; Food Politics: United States; Marketing of Food; Naming of Food; Obesity .


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Heather Holmes

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