Sucralose--the latest fashion accessory?

Sucralose--the latest fashion accessory?

Today’s adventure in marketing is courtesy Facebook’s targeted advertising. When Facebook started including ads on their site, they decided it would be a great idea to target the ads based on the copious amounts of personal information we so conveniently supply them with. As a single woman, I get lovely suggestions of how to end my loneliness with X dating site, how to lose weight with the amazing new açai berry diet, and, of course, various invitations to check out the Facebook groups for retailers such as Victoria’s Secret, and now, oddly enough, Splenda.

Splenda has launched what I can only imagine is a rather experimental marketing campaign through Facebook to create pre-release hype for their latest product, Splenda Mist® (see the group here). Free of those pesky calories, and so portable– it’s just the size of your lipstick (You do own lipstick, right?). The Facebook group defines its mission as such:

To help you get your hands on the latest trend in sweetness. Stick around for a bit and take a look at the photo gallery, become a fan, take a poll, mix yourself a drink, and most importantly, sign up for a free full-sized bottle of SPLENDA® MIST™ and hit “SHARE” to tell your friends about new SPLENDA® MIST™ before we run out.
Trend, of course, is the key word here. All the images in the photoshoot demonstrate the potential of Splenda Mist® to be a fashion accessory, such as the one above which displays it amongst other “necessities” for the girl on the go. Another photo shows all the different tube designs you can choose from, allowing you to express your personality even with what sweetener you use.
Pour a little calorie-free sweeter on me, baby.

Pour a little calorie-free sweeter on me, baby.

Finally, we have this charming image to the right there. Showing the tiny mist bottle next to the lipstick suggests not only that it’s highly portable, but that it has the potential to become one of your purse staples, part of your daily routine. I mean, whichever marketer figured out how to convince us that lipstick is something that “all” women need to carry around with them every day was, although rather evil, brilliant from a marketing perspective. They made accessorizing a necessity.
The accessory image Johnson & Johnson (who owns Splenda) is pushing for is almost too blatant to be called subtext. The real question is, “Why?”  Why has Splenda decided to make this a woman’s product?
This is part of the changing role of food in our society from necessity to accessory. Your latte, your yogurt, and now, your sweetener. While Fast Food has focused on packaging manliness (see Burger King’s Manthem campaign), diet foods (note, not healthy foods.) are on a mission to help women express their “inner divas.” They have decided to cash in on our slavish drive to be beautiful (and thin. I need to stress, once more, the difference between thin and healthy. In food marketing, they become synonymous, which just simplifies our complex bodies.). Marketers are trying to position themselves as our girlfriends who understand our needs.
Over the summer, I noticed Crystal Light’s “U Pump It Up” campaign, a shiny group of advertisements that looked straight out of Elle Magazine. These promised to take your water from “plain” to “pumped,” all the while using words like “vibrant,” which tend to be used to advertise beauty products. Water is simply not fashionable enough (it doesn’t come in pretty colors). The companion to these ads was a social networking site, (flash and music alert!). This site, in addition to providing outlets such as discussion forums, also offered the advice of “wellness experts” in beauty, fashion, dating, and fitness.
Welcome! This is a place where women meet up with friends, inspire each other to do more of the things that make us feel great, and help share that good feeling with others! Join our lively community and try the challenges you’ll find here.
The website may say “Powered by Crystal Light” all over it, but the site designers cleverly try to pretend that the focus is women. Women inspiring each other to be well, thanks to a product which claims to be a substitute for water.
The idea behind campaigns like Crystal Light’s and Splenda’s is to convince their target audience that these products help define you, help make you more yourself. Though we see the commercials and understand that they are designed to get money out of us, the tone tries to convince us that really, it’s about us. Yes, they want our money, but spending our money on these products is just helping us be more ourselves. Like fashion magazines, they provide personality quizzes such as Crystal Light’s “Flavor Wheel,” which determines which Crystal Light flavor best suits your personality (because, you know, you can’t just drink a flavor that you like or anything), or, to go back to Splenda, the “How Sweet are You?” quiz. Like Crystal Light, the Facebook community includes all kinds of extras to make you more you. It promises that their spritz can “spice up your life” if you use their mist to make cocktails. You’ll be the life of the party for sure with their pomegranate julep recipe (of course, it’s pomegranate. Pomegranate is so in right now.).
This becomes even more insidious when you realize that all of their cocktail recipes are for alcohol-free versions of the drinks. Facebook, which started out as only catering to college students, certainly has a large enough population of women 21 and older to market to. Instead, the pseudo-cocktails make me believe that they are, in fact, marketing at least partially to teenagers. I could go on and on about how difficult teenage years are self-esteem-wise and how these calorie-counting messages are damaging, but I feel at this point you either agree with me whole-heartedly or you don’t. As much as we would like to believe that we are stronger than the media, these messages are designed specifically to get under our skin (if you’d like to read more about this, I’d recommend Malcom Gladwell’s Blink.). This suggests that they’re trying to get young girls hooked on calorie counting.

Insecurity is a powerful force for marketers to play with, and, according to our culture, women have it in droves (of course, men do too, but we tend not to focus on that). As People magazine has an article gossiping about which celebrities have gained weight next to one about those who are frighteningly thin, as we watch makeover shows that try and tell us that “all women are beautiful” as long as they follow certain rules of fashion (which will guarantee them a date, of course), we are expected to be vulnerable and confused. Marketers take advantage of this by pretending to be on our side, saying that they understand our plight, and suggesting that if we only buy their product we will get to the heart of who we really are, and all our confusion will magically go away. This  “real woman” discourse, ultimately, has the exact same subtext it pretends to be liberating us from. I know, no surprise, right?  But I keep seeing these campaigns popping up, and I’m sick of the unhealthy lifestyle they promote. Someone needs to point it out.

On a note not precisely related to the campaign, I must at admit that I find the product itself a little strange

Do raspberries really need sweetener

Do raspberries really need sweetener?

in the first place. I know that one of the secrets to advertising new products is, of course, to demonstrate that your product fits a need that the consumer had no idea they even had, to make things that are actually pretty simple suddenly very difficult. Nevertheless, I’m very confused as to the actual purpose of Splenda Mist®, offensive marketing campaign aside. Who goes around sweetening things? Do that many people buy fresh raspberries and then have to make them sweeter (my inner food activist weeps at the thought!)? Is it really going to become the cool thing to bring your own sweetener to a party? I can’t resist the pun– I’m mystified.