Label reading circa 1984

While reading Pandora’s Lunchbox, @jacobadelman unearthed this great 1984 commercial for Breyers ice cream. I love this commercial, not just because of the Dorothy Hamill hairdos and 80’s sweater vests, but because it’s a window into food marketing history. Alas, Breyers strawberry ice cream is no longer just those four simple ingredients, but also whey and tara gum. Nevermind the mono and diglycerides in the butter pecan, or the carob bean gum, guar gum and carrageenan in the black raspberry chocolate, or the propylene glycol in the fat free varieties.

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2 Responses to Label reading circa 1984

  • Douglas Varga says:

    Propylene Glycol…. Hey that’s in my car’s anti freeze /coolant!

  • Eileen Sheehan says:

    I’m pretty sure that the very first TV ad to try the “if you can’t read the ingredient label with ease and speed, don’t eat it” approach was a potato chip company in the mid-1970’s. And that one potato chip ad really changed the way Madison Avenue thought about the marketing of food to conscientious moms.

    I don’t know if it was Wise chips or Lays or whoever, but the ad was a retaliation against the sudden success of the new kid on the potato chip block named Pringles, which came packaged in a tennis ball can instead of a bag. Pringles was enjoying runaway success and taking a huge bite out of the potato chip market (a market with low margins). Pringles appealed to moms and kids alike. Moms loved how neat and clean the can was. Kids just thought the chips were way cool eat and played games with how they ate them. And packing them on a picnic was very convenient because the can took up less room in the basket and the chips never got crushed. But the traditional potato chip manufacturers fired back from an entirely different angle: them chips just ain’t natural!

    The ad featured two little boys on camera, and a grownup off camera. The grownup handed one child an unopened can of Pringles, and the other got an unopened bag of (someone’s famous brand of) traditional potato chips. The grownup said “Here’s the rules: you can’t eat any chips until after you read the entire ingredients label out loud. Okay? Ready set go!” The kid with the traditional chips read “Potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt.” Then he tore open his bag and started munching away. The kid with the Pringles was floundering around with an endless chain of 7-syllable words. Then he looked longingly at the kid eating the bag of traditional chips, then asked the announcer: “Can I have one of those?”

    That one TV ad had a huge impact. Pringles sales suddenly slumped! The ad changed how Pringles manufactured their chips, changed their ingredient label, and made Madison Avenue realize for the very first time that middle-class housewives –not just hippies and college students– were deeply concerned about chemicals in their food, especially their children’s food. That one potato chip ad made for a great big “Who knew?” among advertisers and food manufacturers. Prior to this ad, Madison Avenue assumed middle-class housewives were “positive” consumers who bought products because of the GOOD qualities they possessed (such as ease of preparation and convenience of storing and added vitamins, etc). They never knew housewives would be “negative” consumers who would AVOID products which carried any perceived BAD qualities they possessed (such as yucky chemicals that are probably bad for your kids’ bodies). Prior to that ad, chemicals were seen as the friend of the housewife. This was the first time housewives were shown to be concerned about chemicals.

    I have tried in vain to find that old potato chip ad on the intertubes. It’s nowhere to be seen. If you can get the inside track on finding it, it’d be a huge service to anyone seeking to chronicle American food history.

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