(Snack food). A white cheddar popcorn snack in a black bag. One of the first snacks to capitalize on the fact that white cheddar somehow looks "healthier" than Cheetos-style orange cheese colouring, even though the long-term health effects are no doubt the same.

Reputation as the first snack to make use of irony in its back-of-package writing allowed it to gain popularity among coders, aesthetes, and late-night computer sn(h)ackers.

Have you looked on the back of a bag of Smartfood Popcorn recently? Notice anything different? --Aside from the fact that the bags are bigger (220 grams now) and cost a little bit more. --A slight change, which according to my calculations, doesn't actually seem to garner a higher per kernel profit for the manufacturers.

Odd.

This confused me for a while. Then I read the copy on the reverse side of the bag.

Now, for the last decade or so, the copy would change every few months, making it resemble something of a simple editorial column sporting a peculiar brand of watered down counter-culture snack food rhetoric. Waaay back, when Smartfood came from a small manufacturer, this copy would primarily wax poetic about the quality of the ingredients they used, the total absence of any chemical preservatives, and their general astonishment that none of the other major manufacturers had ever stumbled upon this simple secret for a tasty and non-toxic snack food which wouldn't make you feel like oil-death after you ate a bag.

I sure remember those days, and I munched with the same degree of pride with which I wore tee-shirts with no designer labels, read independent comics and generally aimed my young and heartfelt contempt at the commercial world.

Well, it appears that things have changed. By way of example, I will quote from the bag which is sitting on my desk at this very moment. . . (Emphasis theirs.)

"Is it really smart to let yourself get carried away by a snack? To find yourself longing for it long before lunch?

To be thinking about it at three in the afternoon? To be needing it during the nightly news?

Of course it is! After all it's Smartfood Popcorn we're talking about here. Sure our look may have changed a little, but hey we're still the same fresh-tasting, light-textured, air-popped popcorn smothered in the same smooth, white cheddar cheese flavouring you're grown to love.

So why even try to resist the urge? You know you want it. You know how to get it. Now go out there and be smart about it.

Smartfood popcorn sign of an intelligent life."

Okay. Now if that doesn't make your skin crawl, you're probably not alone. Even though this particular advertising technique is about ten years old, (first engineered, to my knowledge, by Haagen-Daas Ice Cream), it remains advanced enough to slip beneath the awareness radar of most.

In the ice cream campaign, after doing a great deal of study, Haagendas launched their product in three stages. In 1991, they used posters on subways, bus stands, in women's magazines, etc., (all the usual places,) showing happy looking women eating the new ice cream in very small quantities, with copy extolling the virtues of the creamy goodness, and how it was a calming getaway from a hectic life, etc. The point which stood out was that the poster models had a very zoned out, almost stoned look about them.

The following year, 1992, the tone of the ads changed somewhat. They were in the form of diary entries, by neurotic, nervous sounding individuals, saying things like, "I don't understand how this could happen, I'm normally so together; my CD collection is alphabetized, for goodness sake!" but after they started eating some Haagendas, they accidentally finished the whole tub without realizing it.

The final stage of the three part campaign in 1993 employed posters using explosive, jarring colors and one of those hyper, jittery fonts where the letters were all of different sizes, screaming at the subway passenger or magazine reader things like, "GOTTA HAVE IT! GIMME MORE!" The ads looked perfectly strung-out.

Thus, over a three year period, Haagendas succeeded in mirroring and reinforcing the cycle of addiction as it is experienced with any substance abuse. The corporate entity responsible for the Haagendas campaign knew, as does any major ad-firm, that in certain industries, (the commonly referenced one being that which produces alcoholic beverages), 20% of consumers account for approximately 80% of sales, and that those 20% are addicts.

Every smart ad-man knows that addicts are the best customers and that encouraging unhealthy, addictive eating/drinking habits is excellent for sales. And indeed, Haagendas' advertising strategy was highly successful, having established for them a strong and loyal market worth many millions per annum, one which needs very little in the way of regular new advertising to maintain. The fact that they were originally targeting women, who in Western culture are already hammered daily with large quantities of unhealthy messages about eating habits, makes the campaign all the more morally questionable.

So getting back to Smartfood's new tack. . . Read over the above copy again taken from the back of the new bag. It seems pretty obvious to me what they had in mind when it was written.

Also notice, next time you look, another relatively new feature on the package. It's the Hostess/Frito Lay logo. Now, I don't have saved empty popcorn bags dating through the last decade, but I would be willing to guess that the new strategies began after that logo made its appearance.

Final thought. . .

After a year or so of people getting used to the larger bag, if for some reason it were to shrink back down to its normal size, I wonder what would happen to people's purchasing habits. . ?

Snack with care.

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