Some businesses relish in funny, clever, and creative advertising. They take pride in their wit and ability to connect with consumers, making them feel connected to and appreciated by the brand. In short, they have respect for the people they hope will come out and buy their products.
Using that reasoning, Kellogg’s may not fall into this category. If you’re unfamiliar with the company’s campaigns, they’ve developed the “Special K Challenge.” This restrictive diet masquerading as healthy behavior change suggests that in order to quickly lose weight – which they seem to think most women should and want to do – we just substitute two daily meals with a bowl of Special K cereal, a meal bar, or a protein drink.
Their latest commercial is particularly hypocritical, and unfortunately it isn’t available online. Kellogg’s has enthusiastically jumped on the gender bandwagon, telling us that women suffer through emotionally crippling trips to clothing stores, when the number on a pair of jeans somehow morphs into their very identity and worth as a human.
In the commercial, a voiceover asks “wouldn’t it be great if we stopped worrying about size, and focused more on how the fit makes us feel?” as a woman walks into a store and scans jeans on a shelf. Lo and behold, instead of numbers, there are cute and catchy adjectives! You’re not an ‘8’, you’re a “Radiant”! Not a ‘10’, a “Confident”! Perhaps you’re an “Ooh, la la!”! At first, despite the cheesy delivery, this doesn’t seem like such a bad idea – instead of obsessing about the number on tags, why not focus on your great characteristics, emphasizing that being radiant isn’t reliant on wearing a single-digit size?
Shortly after what could be considered a brief attempt to challenge the ranking of beauty inherent in the size game, Kellogg’s does a complete 180. Seconds after claiming women shouldn’t focus on numbers, but on comfort and individuality, Kellogg’s instructs: “take the Special K Challenge! Drop a size in two weeks and slip into a size ‘Sassy’!”
So even if “Radiant” isn’t a number, it’s not as good as “Sassy” because it’s not as small? Kellogg’s has some unique adjectives – they are judged by the size they represent, not the description they offer.
The tagline of the commercial is especially manipulative – “What will you gain when you lose?” This tells women that in order to gain something of merit – a characteristic, a skill, a likable quality, the “it” factor that will make them love themselves – they first need to lose weight. Once you lose weight, Kellogg’s assures us, a plethora of opportunities will open up; success will greet you; finally, your life will begin!
It’s also concerning that the Special K Challenge tells you to drop a jean size in two weeks, which can be a significant amount of weight in a very short amount of time. The restrictiveness of the diet is worrying – a nutritious, well-rounded meal is not replaceable by a 170-calorie/15g of sugar chocolate-dipped surprise that must be unwrapped and can be eaten while you’re waiting for the bus. The cereal’s 3rd and 6th ingredients are sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, so the claim that the Special K Challenge is healthy is false. Kellogg’s doesn’t think that matters to women – what they think matters, and what they’re reinforcing, is the stereotype that women care more about “finally slipping into those skinny jeans” than they do about their bodies being healthfully fed and happily active.
Larkin Callaghan is currently a doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Health Behavior and Education. She blogs about media representation of girls and women at her personal site, I’m Not Tired Yet.