Carrots are the New Junk Food

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A fascinating article in FastCompany describes the process of recoding the semiotics of “baby carrots” so they represent a snacky junk-food rather than a vegetable. The money quote is when the advertising executive says, “To have a great advertising idea, you have to get at the truth of the product…The truth about baby carrots is they possess many of the defining characteristics of our favorite junk food. They’re neon orange, they’re crunchy, they’re dippable, they’re kind of addictive.” In other words, the truth about carrots is that they resemble something completely artificial.

If advertising seeks to alter our perception of reality, then this campaign is likely to be hugely successful simply by shifting the category in the consumer’s mind. A carrot is not a “vegetable.” In other words, the advertiser and producer do not want to code carrot as “vegetable”. The word–the sign–“Vegetable” connotes all kinds of things, many of them negative, especially in the minds of children. But “snack” is an altogether different sign. Snack means tasty, convenient, and entertaining. If this works, it suggests the same could be done with celery or cherry tomatoes, which would be a “good thing” if it got more kids to eat vegetables.

And notice also how much attention goes into the design of the packaging, which is probably the most important component of this whole campaign, given that the underlying product is unalterable. Notice the emphasis on certain codes, the use of the window, the colors and text style, etc. Why does this work? Why won’t it?

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29 Responses to Carrots are the New Junk Food

  1. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    This will not work.
    Fat people will eat the carrots (which are disguised in potato chip packaging), they will exclaim “ew” and never purchase them again, promptly returning to neon orange deep fried soybean oil + corn.

    Fat people are not eating chips by mistake; fat people are eating chips because salt and fat + starch are an easy way of releasing feel good neurotransmitters into their brains and bodies. Fat people who insist on eating like fat people even when they have attempted to eat real food in the past are clearly doing so because they are using food as a drug.

    What obnoxious well to do thin people fail to understand is that not everyone makes 6 figures lives in a beautiful neighborhood and has an emotionally rewarding occupation. Some people are single mothers with a ton of kids with no time to even sleep and the one pleasure they have is eating a lot of sugar and fat. They see no reason to stop doing so and have no incentive to. While you get up at 6 am to go to the gym and eat the sort of obnoxious health food you eat, other people have no time for those luxuries and do not derive any pleasure out of them. There is no room left for a peacock tail display of extra discipline and self control when your bare bones barely making ends meet lifestyle has run you ragged.

    • Sfon says:

      You seem to be assuming that there are only two kinds of people: health nuts who never eat chips and fatties who never eat carrots.

      I am not a health nut, I eat chips without shame and don’t like the idea of never eating another chip. I’ve also bought baby carrots as a snack food and enjoyed them. Because they are not marketed as a snack food, I often don’t think of getting them for that. This seems to be common, people are more likely to think of using something in the way it is marketed.

      Of course if their goal is to completely eliminate chips by replacing them for everyone all the time then they are going to fail. But it sounded to me like the goal was to simply take a bite out of the snack food market.

    • Dan Dravot says:

      If they’ve got that many children, they necessarily have at least one pleasure other than eating junk food. That is, if the straw-man or straw-hippo you’re describing were actually what most fat people are like.

      But you’re right that they don’t just eat any bright-orange object that crosses their path (clay pigeons, traffic cones, etc.)

      However: Annoying health snobs are not all six-figure yuppies, not even close. And none of the fat people I know fit your stressed-out-single-mother profile, either.

      Fat people aren’t victims. Excepting the ones who don’t mind being fat (which may be most of them, actually), they THINK they’re victims. That’s their problem. They’re fat not because they can’t help themselves, but because they won’t.

      And you should always remember that most fat people are simply content with it. Most of the people around them are fat. Fat is normal for them. Their friends and parents are fat. Most of them have been fat since childhood, or adolescence at least. Fat is all they know. It’s all around them. They swim in a sea of blubber.

      In your mind, fat is a hideous and shameful affliction that affects poor people. You’re appalled: What horror, to be fat! They don’t have those feelings about it.

      Personally, I think obesity should be treated as a crime and punished. I know these views aren’t popular, but I have never courted popularity.

      • shaydlip says:

        “Personally, I think obesity should be treated as a crime and punished. I know these views aren’t popular, but I have never courted popularity.”

        Can you expand on why you think being obese is the same as committing a crime? In your mind, what are the costs and benefits?

        • Dan Dravot says:

          Costs of obesity: I don’t like looking at fat people. They take up too much room on airplanes. When they get old and go on Medicare, my taxes pay for the increased cost of their health care.

          Benefits of obesity: None that I’m aware of.

          • FrederickMercury says:

            come on now. obesity is a serious problem, and i almost/kind of agree with your premise that it should be criminalized.

            there’s a legitimate point to be discussed here, no need to dip into the snarky comments just yet.

          • shaydlip says:

            I did not say the benefits of obesity, I said the benefits of allowing someone the freedom to choose obesity.

            So are you going to make smoking illegal? Are you going to make a raw food diet illegal? Where is your line?

            Simply because something is an epidemic, does not mean it should become criminalized.

            As a side note, “I don’t like looking at fat people” is an incredibly petulant response. Taking up too much room is for the airplane carriers to decide, some already have purchasing-two seats requirement in certain cases. In other words: shit happens. I am more interested in freedom of choice.

          • Spider says:

            Did you know that people become type 2 diabetic only AFTER their fat cells lose insulin sensitivity? In other words, as long as fat can keep expanding, you stay healthy.

            Cross two mutant mice with each other — one lacks leptin and is always hungry and becomes obese with too much triglyceride and cholesterol in it’s blood. The other has an excessive amount of adiponectin and can just keep on making fat cells.

            What do you get? A super-fat mouse with HEALTHY blood lipid levels.

            The world’s fattest man has normal cholesterol and triglyerides and blood sugar.

            The most severe forms of metabolic syndrome are found in people who have mutations that *prevent* the accumulation of fat.

            In other words, putting on fat is an endocrinological response that prevents illness. It’s only when this response fails that the person becomes ill with diabetes or hyperlipidemia.

            Now, what triggers that response, that’s what we need to figure out.

      • Spider says:

        It’s called hunger. Have you ever been really hungry? They aren’t eating until their stomachs explode. They’re eating because they are hungry.

        Why are they so hungry? Do you care? Does it mean anything to you?

        Fat is an endocrine organ that puts out more hormones (including anticancer hormones) than any other endocrine organ. When endocrine organs expand, they do so FOR A REASON. If the largest endocrine organ in our body has a reason to triple in size, it’s going to take a lot of energy to do so, and it’s going to send signals to your brain to increase your hunger.

        • Dan Dravot says:

          Why are they so hungry? Because they’re so damn fat. Is that what you’re saying? If so, you’re right: If you get fat, your body will want to remain fat. Indeed, it will want to get even fatter. They do that. Blame Darwin; evolution happened without consulting me.

          The answer is not to get fat. That shouldn’t take a lot of brains, but I guess it’s harder than it looks, with so many lunatics like you running around the culture reassuring people that they’re not at fault for any of their own bad decisions.

          I don’t care if they feel hungry, because I can’t fix it, and it’s not harming them anyway. When you’re massively fat, hunger is a false signal. Your body tells your brain you’re starving when you’re not. It may be unpleasant, but it’s not hurting you and it sure won’t kill you. Don’t like it? Don’t get fat in the first place. What am I supposed to do for these people? There’s nothing I can do. It’s up to them. They’re like alcoholics: They’re going to be miserable until they choose to take responsibility for themselves, and then they’re going to be miserable anyway for a good while longer, until they finally gain some self-control (and even then, life can be tough sometimes). Nobody can do it for them. That’s physically impossible. They need to become adults. An adult is something you become. The verb “to be” is intransitive.

          If you try to help fools avoid the consequences of their behavior, their misery expands to fill the additional space you’ve created. There is zero benefit to them, at arbitrary cost to you. I’ll help anybody who’s willing to make a sincere effort to help himself, but it only works if he’s doing the real work himself.

          Go to Europe, or the wealthier nations in Asia, like Japan or Korea, where absolutely nobody is starving. Look around. Very few of them are fat compared to the US. An epidemic of obesity is not the natural condition of the human species.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            You’re an abject moron.

            I want you to try to starve yourself for a week, see how well you last at it. People are horrible at resisting hunger. It’s like trying to hold your breath.

            I’ve been able to starve myself quite well, but I am an abnormal person in multiple ways. From what I can gather your average person (including yourself I would wager) is terrible at resisting impulses and cravings.

          • philtrum says:

            Oh my. So many questions.

            How do you know that bad habits are what make all fat people fat, anyway? Don’t say “common sense”; that’s a cop-out.

            If hunger pains in a fat person are a “false signal”, how does the fat person know when it’s okay to eat? Or is it just not okay for a fat person to eat, ever?

            Are adults with bad habits not adults? And what is your cutoff for “too fat to be considered an adult”? Ten pounds overweight? Twenty? A hundred? Too fat to walk?

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Spider is absolutely correct by the way – obesity is a metabolic disorder, which is a defense against hyperglycemia/hyperlipidemia which would otherwise occur to them.

          Contrary to myth, severe diabetics are not fat, and very fat people are rarely severely diabetic (mild diabetes, maybe, when their weight begins to stabilize).
          The metabolism of food into body fat is the last defense against diabetes, it occurs after your body has become insensitive to insulin in skeletal muscle/liver so that the body creates more insulin which causes adipocyte hyperplasia and hypertrophy both (this is why obesity is only partially correctable – adipocyte hyperplasia prevents the normalization of body weight after obesity has occurred).

          So everything spider said is correct.

          However, it is aslo true that fat asses don’t want to change their diets at all. You can’t fuel a metabolic fire without fat and glucose coming into your mouth.

          • Dan Dravot says:

            The comment where you called me a moron doesn’t have a reply link, so I’ll reply here. Unfortunately, since you’re so inhumanly stupid that you can’t even wash the feces off your chin, that’ll probably go right over your empty little head.

            OK, so now that we’ve got the formalities out of the way, what exactly were you complaining about?

            Obese people don’t just eat the wrong foods. They eat far too much of them. The process of losing the damn fat — assuming they ever do — is going to involve eating less and feeling hungry. Subjectively “feeling like you’re starving” is not the same as actually starving in the sense of not eating any food at all. If they eat just enough, no more, they are going to feel hungry. They’re not going to enjoy it, but it’s not actual starvation. They’re not going to die.

            Lap band surgery works because it convinces the brain that the body is not hungry.

            Aside from your misunderstanding of that one point, everything else you have to say on the subject is either 100% in agreement with my views, aside from the interesting stuff about the physiology of obesity. But w the metabolic details are, they have to want to change, and that’s not easy.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        LOL, you think obesity should be a crime and punished?
        You’ve basically just said “please ignore all of my future posts, I am irrational”>

        • philtrum says:

          Indeed. That idea doesn’t work on any level.

        • Dan Dravot says:

          When I wrote “I know these views aren’t popular, but I have never courted popularity”, I wrongly assumed that other people have seen that episode of Monty Python — not that they should need to have, since it was obviously too preposterous to be serious.

          It was a JOKE, OK?


    • Spider says:

      Why are you so sure fat people are eating for the pleasure of it, and not because they are hungry?

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        I agree with your position spider. I am actually pleasantly surprised to see an intelligent response here (I didn’t bother going into the pathophysiology of obesity myself, because I’ve tested the nature of responses here and I realized it would not be well received).

        However, just because obesity is a pathophysiologically real phenomenon does not mean that fat people cannot do anything to control it. There are a slew of dietary practices medications and supplements which will improve insulin sensitivity and cause weight loss for such individuals. However, what I see time and time again is that fat people are totally uninterested in making meaningful changes to their diet or lifestyle. They sort of want to continue to eat high starch and high sugar food, they are uninterested in hearing the real pathos underlying their hypertrophic fat tissue.

        I’ve tried approaching the subject many ways with many different fat people. I usually open up the conversation like this: “I bet you have a family history of diabetes” and then they; say “How did you know”, and then I say “obesity is the first sign of a failing glucose metabolism; it is not true that obesity causes diabetes, but rather the pathophyisology of diabetes leads to obesity early in life. Most of the time when people have a weight problem it is because they have multiple metabolic/energy using abnormalities and they need to alter their diet and avoid certain foods”.

        Usually what happens is they agree with me, but continue to eat low fat, high sugar/carb food anyway, making no hedge way with weight, feeling extremely hungry, and eventually faltering from the diet (a diet which was all wrong and in no way conducive to long term weight loss).

        Then you have the type of person who does understand the underpinnings of obesity (it’s usually related to glucose metabolism, and it is treated by avoiding a high glucose load in the diet)… but they refuse to alter their diet and instead crash diet here and there on an extremely low carb diet.

        From what I can see, most people really aren’t serious at all about reducing their weight and don’t care too much about it. They are not accidentally eating potato chips, they are choosing potato chips over say, almonds or something healthful on purpose… they are doing it because it feels good to eat them, even though it makes them diabetic eventually.

  2. Dan Dravot says:

    Mass-marketed “baby carrots” are carrots, but they are not babies. They are cut pieces of full-grown adult carrots, marketed as “baby carrots”.

    And it works. Up to a point.

    Marketers often overestimate the value of marketing in selling things to people who don’t want them. In Germany, they sell rendered fat in tubs. It’s called “schmaltz” and you spread it on bread or whatever. Popularity is declining as old people die off. Attempts have been made to market it to young trend-hoppers by adding nacho cheese flavoring and labeling it “Party Schmaltz“. Popularity continues to decline.

    As AnonymousAtLarge observes, people eat Cheetos for more reasons than just the color.

    • Balsamred says:

      Yes, and baby carrots just aren’t that good, as carrots go. They’re dry and lose a lot of their flavor before they get to the consumer. It doesn’t make sense to expect people will want to eat a dry, flavorless lump rather than a Cheeto just because it’s orange and commes in a flashy bag.

  3. Jackie says:

    I find it interesting that the marketers spent so much time, money, and effort, on ways to manipulate consumers into thinking of Baby Carrots as *snacks* but only paid only lip service to how the product will be presented to consumers at point of purchase.
    In a supermarket/Costco type of store, Baby Carrots will be with the vegetables, so the product gets refrigeration. In a convenience store, as the article mentioned, it could be sold at the checkout — but only if it’s refrigerated. And if it’s not, who would buy it?
    Now, the packaging colors, text, mascot, scream junk food, but if the product’s sold next to the cabbage, it’s all for naught. To get people to think of Baby Carrots as snacks, they have to be sold in the snack food aisle.

  4. Vigil says:

    Brilliant package design. I can’t stop snickering at the carrot eclipse.

    Pretty sure this isn’t actually being marketed towards the people who are going to eat them—it’s being marketed towards parents who, with the help of the cool-looking packaging, will be able to give these to their kids in their school lunchbox without them immediately throwing a fit. Adults aren’t very likely to decide that carrots are suddenly a cool snack, but their kids haven’t learned otherwise yet. If the kid can blend in with the other kids at the lunch table, all eating orange snacks out of crinkly bags, he’s not going to feel ashamed of his stupid snack and might actually eat it.

  5. Spider says:

    Carrots are so high in carbohydrates I kinda think this will fail as a weight loss strategy, even for those who replace their cheetos with them. And you know most people are going to dip them into ranch dressing or peanut butter anyway…

    • philtrum says:

      High in carbs, but much more nutritious than Cheetos. If the goal is health rather than specifically weight loss, that is.

  6. ThomasR says:

    Obesity as a crime. It’s not so far-fetched. Just more of an extrapolation than most people are willing to accept.

    At one point, long in the past, a person’s health was a personal issue, at most a family or community issue. If you got fat, you paid for it in many ways. If you were willing to bear the consequences, then that was your choice.

    But today, healthcare is funded by the government, which is funded by China and the taxpayers. Obesity, or anything that is not healthy, costs money eventually. The person accepts money from the government to pay for nearly everything. Now, it’s not just the person’s choice to be healthy or not. The government gets a say in the person’s choice too. The government has every incentive to MAKE people be healthy.

    • philtrum says:

      It’s not something one would ordinarily deal with through criminal law, though, but through economic policy: for example, heavy taxes on cigarettes.