Know Thy Enemy Week #4: Advertisers


Ask any parent: it’s nearly impossible to shield kids from the onslaught of advertising for toys and fast food. But, us adults are hit just as hard. During a random one hour of prime time television that I watched Thursday evening, there were 35 commercials. That’s an awful lot of advertising.

Though there were less food ads during that time period than I expected, there’s one thing I was right about: every single food ad featured meat. A (really annoying) Wendy’s ad that ran twice showed three salads, which is about as close to vegetarian food as a lot of people get. However, one of these three salads featured beef and the other two had chicken. There was also a Taco Bell commercial featuring a meat-heavy wrap of some sort, a Campbell’s Tomato Soup commercial that showed the soup paired with chunks of ham and layers of cheese, and a Domino’s commercial featuring a pizza 30% larger than an extra large. The pizza was, of course, topped with pepperoni and marketed towards men.

There also were a few ads for likely animal-unfriendly items like hair care and cosmetics.

The most subtle form that shows exactly how ingrained the use of animals is in our culture came during a commercial for In the commercial, a pair of scientists in lab coats, one holding a talking monkey, search online for a pot pie recipe. All of the results, of course, show chicken pot pie.

While I didn’t spot any ads explicitly from the meat or dairy industries, I can’t even remember the last time I saw an ad for Silk.

One of the most astounding pieces of information I’ve seen over the last few years compares the amount spent annually to promote fruits and vegetables versus the amounts spent on heavily processed junk foods, fast foods, and meat. In a report called “Out of Balance,” Consumers Union (the publisher of Consumer Reports) found that:

The $11.26 billion spent on advertising by the food, beverage, and restaurant industries in 2004 dwarfed the mere $9.55 million spent on communications for the federal and California “5 A Day” programs to encourage eating 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Industry expenditures for food, beverage and fast food advertising, thus, are 1,178 times greater than the budgets for the California and federal 5 A Day campaigns. In this context, it is no wonder that healthful dietary messages from government, parents and others are barely audible.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is another one of those situations where it’s difficult to work with the enemy because there’s just no money in marketing vegetables. The Carrot Industry (you know, the people that go to the International Carrot Conference) doesn’t have the money to spend to get their information in front of kids and their parents the way the National Cattlemen’s Association does. The best that we can hope for on any large scale is when a company like Silk gets absorbed by a larger corporation and gets enough of a boost to be able to get a couple of ads on morning TV.

I used to think that advertising was a waste of resources for groups like Compassion Over Killing. Shouldn’t they be using that money to gather more undercover footage or something? But the fact is, mainstream America never sees that footage, no matter how readily accessible it is. And while it’s vitally important that we continue on with these types of activism, things like advertising on MTV and in magazines may be just as important when it comes to helping raise awareness about vegetarian diets and animal exploitation. While the Superbowl consistently denies PETA’s ads, even advertising on a smaller scale can cause a difference and plant a seed in the head of someone who wouldn’t take it upon themselves to search out the same information on their own.

It’s funny how animal rights people are always being accused of “pushing their agenda,” but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the food industries are spending a whole lot more time and money pushing their agendas each and every day.

3 Responses to “Know Thy Enemy Week #4: Advertisers”

  1. Beth

    Excellent series! Very thought provoking. Thanks.


  2. Karen

    Everybody has an agenda.

    It’s how you use it/what you use it for that really matters most.

    If only compassion for all sentient beings was the norm. I dream of that world…

  3. Danielle

    When Wayne Pacelle was picked to head the HSUS, an article in the local paper made a crack about him brainwashing kids into veganism. I wrote a letter right back pointing that the meat and dairy industries do a hell of a lot of brainwashing, and nobody even blinks.

    And I’m thinking CBS refusing to run PETA’s ads because of taste issues when beer commercials are legendary for their tastelessness. This was the year people had a conniption because of Janet Jackson’s nipple and nobody thought that maybe whatshisface was mimicking sexual assault when he ripped off part of her top.

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