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They’re So Krafty: Marketers Go for the Anti-Ad Demographic

dfarsettas Icon Posted by Diane Farsetta

May 28th, 2008

It’s hard to come up with ways that advertising could be more obnoxious, but how about this: marketing that pretends it’s not selling anything.

Remember the Kraft / Crystal Light “cause initiative” I blogged about back in March? Kraft’s “uPumpItUp” website invites women to adopt lifestyle “challenges” couched in empowerment rhetoric — while Crystal Light logos appear on every page and personal information is collected for marketing purposes.

Kraft’s pumping itself up in the real world, too. In Tarrytown, New York, the company recently sponsored a “Fashion Design project” that “paired at-risk high school girls with college students to pitch product ideas to the company,” reports PR Week. Fashion Institute of Technology students worked with young girls on “presentations for original brand packaging, clothing, and accessory designs.”

“It was not only about exposing the girls to Kraft, but also getting the opportunity to hear viewpoints [on the brand] we hadn’t before,” explained Kraft’s Crystal Light brand manager, Melissa Merchant.

So, it was a feel-good event that helps Kraft better understand how to sell products to young girls. And this isn’t marketing … why, exactly?

Oh right, because there wasn’t “a large-scale media” presence, according to Merchant. I guess Kraft just did a little PR to promote its good deeds. Mother Teresa would be proud.

Next up is a Crystal Light / uPumpItUp “photojournalism program” pairing those handy at-risk young girls “with professional photographers to create work for exhibits and auction in late July.” I bet Kraft will only make a few media calls about that one, too.

It’s not just Kraft that’s adopted the I’m-not-selling-you-anything marketing model. The current issue of Advertising Age profiles Bridge Worldwide, a Cincinnati-based online advertising firm that specializes in what it calls “marketing with meaning.”

For ConAgra, Bridge designed the “Start Making Choices” website, which “conveys nutrition, exercise and other well-being tips from cardiologist James Rippe … as it weaves in messages and sponsorship from the company’s Healthy Choice, Eggbeaters, Hunt’s Orville Redenbacher and Pam brands.” To promote Abbott Laboratories‘ Glucerna brand products for diabetics, the firm created a “Diabetes Control for Life” program that offers food and health tips. Bridge says the program helps “participants lose weight and have better blood-sugar management,” while their “Glucerna product consumption increases ninefold.”

Using a similar approach, Johnson & Johnson “has funded what it calls the world’s largest database on children’s sleep,” which just happens to “point out to parents that giving their babies a bath before bedtime helps get them to sleep (which doesn’t hurt the world’s largest purveyor of baby bath soap),” as AdAge notes.

These companies and their marketing firms might argue that they’re creating win-win situations: they boost sales while providing something of value to target audiences. But they’re blurring the boundaries between marketing and philanthropy, between commerce and causes. That’s not to mention that their criteria for what’s a good “cause” is what will move more product.

Call me old fashioned, but I like my ads presented clearly as sales pitches — not as entertainment, not as news, and definitely not as social welfare.

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