Yes, We’re All Susceptible to Food Advertising

What shiny white teeth you have...We in the Primal community often consider ourselves somewhat countercultural. (Okay, some of us maybe more than somewhat…) We eat what conventional wisdom says will kill us. We avoid or minimize our intake of whole food groups (mostly one really). In fact, we generally decline much of what the rest of society eats for its three square meals every day. Speaking of food frequency, we do strange fasting practices with no apparent religious intent. We’re just strange like that. Some of us work out at odd hole in the wall gyms with empty spaces instead of steppers and Nautilus machines. We go barefoot. We sit or sleep on the ground. We climb trees. And then there’s the caveman thing…. It’s enough to make ordinary folk shake their heads in abject consternation. With all of our, em, idiosyncratic choices, over time we can believe we’ve extricated ourselves from the cultural forces that would have us live otherwise. After all, it takes legitimate discipline to resist the expectations, routines and provisions that surround us every day. In the interest of said discipline, I think many of us insulate ourselves (or our kids) from at least some traditional marketing sources. Maybe it’s the sheer annoyance factor that initially motivates us. (Who hasn’t wanted to strangle the Trix rabbit?) Maybe it’s the desire to focus our kids’ early exposure on naturally occurring food that needs no cartoon mascot. Either way, I think we do ourselves a service. While we may be highly conscious consumers, we’re still highly human (and thereby susceptible) observers of marketing’s cunning messages.

Researchers have long noted the dramatic impact of advertising on emotion and behavior. The most cited studies have assessed the influence of food marketing on children, and researchers concur that kids are indeed more vulnerable to the messages they view. (What associations were established in your childhood by commercials and other marketing messages?) One Australian research review suggests children view approximately 5000 food advertisements a year (PDF). Add to this the intuitive finding that commercial viewing significantly impacts food requests, snacking behavior and food consumption. Ring true for any parents out there?

This said, plenty of research demonstrates adults are anything but immune. Our opinion of foods, researchers have found, is significantly influenced by our perception of other peoples’ experience of it. If they like it, we’re more likely to think we’ll like it. This principle doesn’t just hold for restaurant reviews around the water cooler on Friday afternoon. Advertisements create social stories. We see people enjoying or benefiting from a particular food product, and that message directly translates to our Paleolithic instincts. Look at those people and how much fun they’re having eating that endless pasta bowl. It must be good. The social association gets even more specialized in our experience of advertising. Whereas kids gravitate to cartoon figures (or sports figures), for example, we’re apparently suckers for celebrity endorsements (PDF). When you consider than food advertising focuses almost 75% of the time on fast food, sweets and cereal, it’s clear we have little to nothing positive to gain from the presence of advertising.

And lest we think that our dietary discipline mutes the effects of food marketing, it’s important to note that research demonstrates the even more pronounced impact of food advertisements on those who are dieting. While it’s safe to argue that a person who’s unnaturally restricting calories is operating from a different vantage point than one who has adequate caloric intake but more strategic macronutrient balance, the idea of restriction can hold sway in us each differently. Even if most of the time you feel fully satisfied eating Primally, something as simple as a bad mood or recent, however brief, temptation can spur the sense of restriction that opens the door for these advertisements’ tactics.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not too into television beyond some no commercial cable series. For the couple I watch that would have me sit through commercial breaks, I buy them or wait until they’re on a service that allows me to watch them commercial free. Mostly, I do this for time. It drives me up the wall to sit through ads. On the few occasions, however, that I find myself in front of regular T.V., I’m astounded by the marketing power that gets unleashed within a 5 minute network window. Sometimes it’s snacks marketed to children. Other times it’s fast food or sit-down restaurant chains. Sometimes it’s boxed “dinners,” frozen meals, sodas and energy drinks, candy, condiments, you name it.

Yes, I know and we all know just how much garbage exists out there in the food industry. Still, there’s a very dramatic difference between walking down the aisles of a regular grocery store where the packages sit inert (despite the sometimes screaming graphics) and viewing these products highlighted in strategic mini-movies, associated with ease, luxury, love, happiness, adventure, sex and family. All the aggrandizing and playing upon human emotion and desire is startling when you’ve taken a break from it. Sure, I admire the skill and artistry that goes into crafting such ads, but I’m simultaneously repelled in many cases. Going back to that grocery store either literally or imaginatively, the aisles and their product displays don’t seem so quiet and objective anymore. Advertising is cumulative and achieves its apex in layers of interaction. Shopping under the influence of advertising raises a cacophony of commercial recall and psychological manipulation.

Whether it’s a highway billboard, a magazine ad or a T.V. commercial, the effect is generally the same. We’re made to feel something in connection with a product. We’re led to associate the brand with an essential experience or empathetic figure or desirable attribute. Advertising doesn’t tell us what we want as much as who we want to be and then convinces us that their product imparts something of that experience – whether it’s the distinction of a “luxury” car or the romantic luxury of Dove chocolate. Whether or not we buy the product, we buy the association much more often than most of us realize or care to admit.

The association of course is the gateway. It creates a feeling and identity around the product all in the name of branding. Whether it’s Mountain Dew hijinks or green-washed “natural” processed food, we are drawn in by the identity. That’s where our perception of a product gets foggy. We can reject a bag of Doritos passed our way, but when given the choice between Doritos and a bag of generic tortilla chips, which is the harder to say no to? That gap is where the marketing magic takes over.

Forget tortilla chips for a minute and imagine you’ve just walked into a Whole Foods or even a large, well-appointed co-op store. Make your way down the aisles. Are you more likely to come away with unplanned purchases than you would’ve at a conventional grocery store? Why is that? Like many of us, I imagine, do you unconsciously associate everything in the store with a higher caliber of food and a healthier selection? That’s the store’s branding at work. Even if it’s a neighborhood co-op, you go in for pastured chicken and leeks and end up with nut butter pretzels in the bag as well. Somehow it’s easier to justify when we imagine that the co-op sells us healthier food.

There are a million examples any one of us could share (and please do feel free on the comment board), but the take home is a simple reflection really. We can eschew traditional food choices and the sources that market them. Yet, our brains still operate the same. We can celebrate the choices Grok made in his day and setting. Put him in ours, and we’d be looking at a very different story. I think we can and should acknowledge the natural inclination to be drawn to what commercials tell us we should like. The Mad Men of this day and age, after all, have even more psychological and demographic firepower at their disposal. While surrounding ourselves with community and reading/viewing material that supports our choices certainly spares us a lot of mental static, I don’t think it’s necessary (or particularly realistic) to remain in hypervigilant mode at all times. Whereas hypervigilance gets old, maybe humor offers a better answer and a more enjoyable defense. What say you?

Thanks for reading, everyone. What advertisements are you exposed to in a day? What reactions do they elicit in you? What do you think is the best defense against their influence? I hope you’ll share your thoughts and stories. Have a great weekend.

TAGS:  marketing

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

118 thoughts on “Yes, We’re All Susceptible to Food Advertising”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. There is a social connection we make with food, certain experiences such as football game food, family bbq food, kids sleepover foods, etc and marketers certainly play on that. However, starting to think of food as a performance enhancer was the most powerful switch for me. While taste is a inert and primal desire, the hierarchy now definitely favors how the food will power my body and then how to I make that food taste good.

  2. I feel like this could apply to some paleo-branded items as well, like paleo cookies, etc.–we readily indulge and overindulge in some things because we take the paleo label as an indicator that it’s okay to eat. A cookie made without corn syrup and flour might be better, but it’s still a cookie.

    1. Yes! Remember Snackwell cookies? Only 10 calories a cookie (or something like that) so I CAN EAT THE WHOLE BOX!

    2. True! Soooo many bloggers post a lot of paleo desserts and snacks. Most are too much trouble for me to make but if I were a serious baker I would be in trouble!

    3. +1
      I see a lot of people stuffing themselves with “paleo-approved” cakes, cookies, candy, desserts etc. made with tons of honey, nut flour, dark chocolate and fat, and I totally agree with your comment:
      “A cookie made without corn syrup and flour might be better, but it’s still a cookie” 🙂

  3. second! Always enjoy the posts. Thanks. Now to order that cleverly packaged Primal Fuel I enjoy so much. Heehee.

  4. It’s an interesting question – but I feel utterly unswayed by advertising. For anything. I am simply not interested. Maybe it’s because I worked in advertising a while back. Or I don’t aspire to what they show and what they assume I would aspire to. I just want my health, my peace, my family, my work, my knitting – and that’s it!

    1. +1, Anna. Advertising has always left me cold as well, whether it be for food, vacation spots, prescription drugs–whatever. Maybe some people are just more vulnerable to suggestion than others. I suspect I wouldn’t be easy to hypnotize either, though I’ve never tried it.

    2. I almost wonder if it is related to an Introvert/Extrovert thing. I think that Introverts have less of a desire to be part of whatever cool thing is depicted with some random people we don’t know.

      1. This could work both ways. I’m certainly introvert by nature, but almost all of my colleagues are extroverts and I have to act that way to get on around here. So a product that would apparently make me “fit in” better with those people is hugely desirable.

    3. I agree, working on advertising from the inside allows you to see the sausage factory. I appreciate some ads for their comic value; they can be quite funny here and there. But that’s about all I get from advertising as a consumer.

      Similarly, seeing photo retouching from the inside pretty much breaks the magical allure of perfectly buff bodies forever. It’s made me feel incredibly free, actually.

      I teach my young daughter about image manipulation and advertising as she grows up so hopefully it will sink in over the years. Maybe she can be a more confident and skeptical teen and young adult as a result.

  5. I usually read when watching TV, and during the commercial breaks my nose is in my book. When I’m not reading, commercials hardly even register anymore. They are probably passing through the empty space where my brain used to be….

    1. I do that too, or use commercial breaks to move, squat, grab some macadamias…

  6. I disagree.

    If one is fully sated by the paleo way of eating, and if one is fully aware of what the garbage foods do to your body when you do give in, I don’t see how you can be swayed.

    Now, if the commercials started showing me fields of spring-green grass full of munching, happy cows, and then cut to a restaurant bringing a smiling family plates of steaks and salads, and glasses of full fat raw milk, then I’d probably want to go to that restaurant.

    As it stands now I know how the foods they advertise on TV make me feel. My reaction to those foods is a far stronger emotion than anything the Mad Men could ever create.

    1. Here’s how someone can be swayed: health isn’t the only thing people want. People want love, acceptance, a social circle. People want to enjoy their food. People want that serotonin burst when they enjoy a simple pleasure like chocolate.
      Advertisers are already brilliant at getting people to make the link between their products and these desires. For those who are “fully sated by the paleo way of eating,” and “fully aware of what the garbage foods do to your body when you do give in” advertisers need only tap into those non-health desires and convince someone that, for a little while, some things are more important.

      If you’re truly immune to that, then good for you.

      1. But what you’re saying is that there’s a temptation in the first place, that somehow by eating paleo you are depriving yourself of certain pleasures.

        Those same pleasures can be found in paleo foods. Of course that depends on what you consider paleo. I eat coconut macaroons made with coconut, honey, and eggs. Every once in a blue moon I make bulletproof ice cream with my ice cream maker.

        You can find pleasure in other items that are not Mad Men driven. Of course I realize now that you are talking about a peer pressure influence causing people to make choices that are bad for them.

        That does exist, I agree, but I feel that you are less prone to those social influences if you are completely happy with what you are doing.

        1. No, what I’m saying is that there’s always something you want. It may be completely unrelated to how you eat.

          Advertisers have become masters at creating the illusion of correlations that aren’t really there. That’s how eating became a social event. For example, you may not want the pizza the commercial is advertising, but you might want be apart of the gathering where the actors are eating it. You may not want the beer in the add, but the drinker might inspire some very paleo emotions.

          It’s subtle and subconscious, but it’s there. You see something you want and something you don’t want. But it’s all in one picture. I don’t know how it works, but the advertising companies do. It makes an impression.

          And just because you have the awareness to not act on such advertising, doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you. What you’re describing is the conscious mind talking yourself out of going for the advertised product (specifically, by looking for other things that provide the same pleasure). But the fact that you have to consciously talk yourself out of it means the advertisements have an effect, however temporary it may be.

        2. Julia is right – I’m a product design engineer by profession; even back in college we were taught to consider these elements during conceptualisation, way before the marketing/advertising stage. I can see a lot of these influences but still often have to catch myself falling for the tricks. Even the best swimmer needs to correct for the currents!

  7. I’m usually not swayed by the advertisement, but I am almost always irritated with claims of ‘healthiness’. Fat-free sugar-bombs claiming to be healthy. How ridiculous.

  8. The power of advertising is huge and I completely agree that no matter how ‘immune’ to it’s effects you think you are, it is impossible to ignore. It has challenged and changed our natural perceptions on virtually everything (try going into the woods and not noticing (consciously on sub-consciously) the Patagonia jacket the hiker going the other way down the trail is wearing…).

    Good post Mark! Our little primal/paleo world is primarily in existence to give people the tools to weed through the “conventional wisdom” that advertising has spotlighted for generations.

  9. we’re apparently suckers for celebrity endorsements

    It’s what keeps Wheaties in business! That, and the fact that the celebrity in question is staring RIGHT AT YOU. I read an article that said of the character on the cereal box stares right at you, you’re likely to buy it.

    This is what leads to product shelf placement–specifically, what height. Notice, too, that the most eggregious junk food is placed at child’s height, and other items (non-food) are placed according to value: the largest mark-up items are at eye level, and the better buys tend to be above or below the eye level.

    Don’t believe me? Go to a grocery store and check the price per unit on the shelf labels (located in one of the corners).

  10. I always get a kick out of the packaging that flashes NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP on the front label and then the first ingredient in the small print is corn syrup. SAD consumers are just plain FOOPID.

  11. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve heard people I know claim they’re not swayed by advertising, since they don’t immediately want to go out and buy the things being shown to them. But these are the same people who will only buy brands, (be it Gillette Razors, Nurofen painkillers or Cadbury Chocolate) because they’re convinced they’re better than other non-branded stuff or ‘lesser’ brands, and its all based on the image portrayed in the adverts. It doesn’t matter to them that the 35p store-own-brand ibuprofen contains the exact same ingredients as the £3.50 Nurofen – in fact that extra cost (which all goes towards the marketing budget) probably goes most of the way to convincing them of its ‘quality’.

    These people are also the same people who claim to live perfectly healthy lifestyles, and then as soon as the opportunity arises will eschew the healthy homemade chicken dish in favour of KFC, “cos its way more exciting”. Exciting cos the posters/tv told you so? Thought so.

    1. On the contrary, many people really aren’t swayed by advertising. If I buy a name-brand product can of peas, for example, it’s because I’ve also tried the store-brand can of peas and found the generic to be inferior and not worth the cheaper price. It depends on the product, of course, but this is the case with many things and has nothing to do with advertising.

      1. I have noticed in a lot of cases, the generic brands often contain less crap… I buy a generic brand of mustard for example because it contains water, mustard seeds, vinegar, salt, citric acid and turmeric. The branded version of the same type of mustard also contained sugar and”natural flavour”. The taste is close enough that I can’t tell the difference, it was cheaper, AND it is healthier.
        I read the labels and base my choice on the ingredients. Even if it tasted way better, if it contains dodgy ingredients I am not buying it.
        I don’t think I am swayed by advertizing really – I rarely buy anything processed, and the mustard, canned tomatoes and coconut milk that I bought last week were all selected on the basis of what they contained (tomatoes and tomato juice in the case of the tomatoes and coconut extract and water in the case of the coconut milk. Everything else was real food in it’s natural state.

      2. I believe Steph is right, at least for a lot of people including myself in the past. If I had never tried a product before I’d almost always buy the brand not the generic just because I assumed it was better quality. Nowadays, I just never buy anything without reading the labels very carefully.

    2. I’m definitely NOT one of those people. In fact I’ve gone the opposite way. I deeply resent brands for ripping people off. I’ve had a glimpse behind the scenes and it doesn’t take a genius to know that everything they do is to lower their production costs and increase their profits by selling you cheap crap behind the brand name. I never buy branded goods if I can help it.

      1. Everything is branded. You can’t NOT buy branded goods. If you are buying it, it has a brand. Otherwise, you have to grow it/hunt it yourself, trade for it etc. I’m the same, I have a deep resentment & hatred for businesses trying to trick people into buying things they dont need. It’s especially disgusting to use children’s undeveloped minds and emotions to get parents to buy products. If you really think about it, what BUSINESS sells products or provides a service for pay, that you actually need? Very few businesses. The foundational problem lies in business/capitalism and the structure of having to pay for services that used to be something you would get for trade/work as a function of being part of a small community.
        As a child, we werent allowed to watch much tv. When commercials came on, they were immediately muted. My parents would not let me wear anything with any kind of brand on it. Why should I be advertising for a company, FOR FREE? If I already paid them for their product, they should be paying me to do work for them. When I see someone walking down the trail with their brand new jacket and I can plainly see the brand on it, I think, how sad, they were duped, unless they rep for the company. The point being, part of the solution is to scale back buying ANYTHING new, unless it is unpackaged, unprocessed food. I’ve discovered that almost EVERYTHING else, from clothing to electronics to office supplies to books to dishes & everything in between can be bought second hand (thrift stores), traded for, borrowed (library/friends), or lived without. Of course, I’m not perfect. I make exceptions for not buying things new, including underwear, shoes (when I do wear them, I want them to fit properly) and a few select Items. I’ll also willingly pay for education (small, local classes) and highly specialized services if I really need them. It takes years to develop this kind of lifestyle and ignore advertising. I thought my parents did a fairly good job of it, but I also imagine it’s much harder for the kids/parents of today. Just imagine if kids were raised without exposure to advertising, how lovely the world would be…..

        1. Yes, that is very much how I go about things too! Goods may be branded in the strict sense of bearing name of the manufacturing company, but I am hard pressed to recall the name on the bottle of white vinegar I buy for my household cleaning needs, for example. I spent years of my childhood parroting TV commercials and singing back their jingles. My parents had no idea that advertising could be a harmful influence.

          I have since tried my best to scale back on everything, by buying second hand and especially by making my own cleaning and personal care products, as I feel particular ire towards certain corporations who produce and advertise laundry detergents, fabric softener (!), shampoo, toothpaste, etc.

          Something else I love is bartering. If I can trade a thing or a service for something else I need, it excludes money, big business and all else from the transaction.

  12. Just happy my four year old daughter did NOT pass the recent preschool “test” of recognizing the golden arches. Thanks for the post Mark.

  13. Lately I’ve been pretty disgusted by food commercials actually. For instance Checker’s has a new combo meal box they advertise with golden fried shrimp (coated in something) with fries. It’s a total box of YUCK every time I see the commercial, I’m like where’s the shrimp? Same for most of the commercials – I think now where would I find THAT in nature ??

  14. Ever notice the way McDonald’s sends out coupon books right AFTER the holidays (when most people try to “get in shape,”) as well as right before Lent begins. My husband never eats fast food, but always gets a McD craving when the coupons arrive (hey, look at this frap coffee and it’s only 99 cents!)

    As for food ads and kids, there’s a simple solution. Ensure that you have really bad tv reception (no cable, no bunny ears, etc.) and only let them watch DVDs and netflix that you o.k. We didn’t have cable for years (cave mentality, even before Primal). Now, when we vacation, our kids (upon seeing commercials) ask, “Mom, why does the tv keep changing channels?” For me, it wasn’t just the commercial ads, it was the focus interruptions the tv promotes.

    1. We called it “farmer vision”, but the whole time we were growing up, we watched rented movies. We got one local channel on one very small tv, that never played anything worth watching. I think that saved my mom a lot of “buy me this” grief. Something like being the only person in my class that hadn’t had hamburger helper. I was totally baffled by the concept. You need a special box to make macaroni and hamburger???

  15. It’s funny after I’ve been eating paleo for a while I started to get almost sick feeling looking at greasy advertisments of food ha

  16. There’s a lot of people in denial on this comment section. This very good post sheds light on the idiocy of parents who go out of their way not to influence their children, to let them make their own decisions. Well, guess who’s influencing those children–media and advertising. Maybe it’s time to wield our own influence, using our years of experience and ability to think critically.

    Very thoughtful post.

  17. I hate commercial TV!

    I get a definite disconnect standing in line at the grocery store. The money I save on the packaged frankenfoods makes it possible to buy my favorite mixture of raw and roasted nuts, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken…all that good stuff. I have long since ceased trying to convert family and friends and have made new friends who are also trying to improve their health. It’s all good.

  18. This may be slightly off-topic, but anyone else notice the pure STUPIDITY of the commercials as of the last couple of years?

    I honestly believed the have dumbed down the commercials for this dumbed-down society.

    I still can’t get over the number of people who watch reality shows. Pure insanity.

    *No offense to reality-show watchers here* Actually, I take that back. It includes you too! ;O)

  19. We’ve been watching strictly Netflix for well over a year, so the few times I’m actually exposed to TV ads, they blow my mind. It’s ridiculous how persuasive they are, primal or not.

    1. Netflix is where it’s at.

      We haven’t watched TV for several years.

      The parts that bother me most about food advertising is that so many unhealthy foods are promoted as “heart healthy,” with the American Heart Association seal and everything, and I just took basic medical biochemistry where we learned–in a nutshell–that EXCESSIVE CARBS MAKE YOU FAT. Then, we learned in pharmacology that it’s excessive carbs AGAIN that contribute to high triglycerides in the blood, NOT FAT. And then there goes the AHA pasting their pretty, shiny medallion on everything with wheat in it that isn’t nailed down, and cautioning people to eat a “heart-healthy,” low cholesterol diet and cut calories and fat while filling up on whole grains.

      As a master’s student in medical science, I get so frustrated that this well-known concept in biochemistry gets lost as soon as you leave basic biochemistry and start heading into the “medical” part of “medical science.”

  20. Think processed “food” marketed to adults is disgusting? Ha! Just check the ingredients on a package of toddler snacks from any of the major industrial concerns: you will find paleo “poisons” such as grains, seed oils, sugar, and chemicals at the top of the list. And these snack items are promoted as “healthful.”

  21. I was just in the grocery store yesterday and noticed a “food item” marked as a Primal Snack. I was intrigued, picked it up, and found it was a tofu ‘jerky’ thing. Tofu that was shaped and colored to look like a piece of beef. Hardly primal at all but marketed to appear to be something it was not.

    1. Emily, I’ve made that same mistake – I know exactly the thing you are talking about! It most definitely is not primal, pretty nasty really.

    2. They sell those at my university’s bookstore.

      I was very sad to discover that tofu jerky is, in fact, a thing.

      Thankfully there is a Starbucks on the second floor, so I grabbed an iced black coffee in my reusable tumbler and fasted it out. Life was good again.

  22. My biggest problem with food associations is not from advertising but from emotional connections. What trips me up is the desire to bake cookies and make cornbread with my granddaughter like my grandmother did with me. We can make paleoized treats, but it is hard not to make the recipes that have been handed down in my family for generations.

    1. Nonnie, I totally get that whole “family recipe” thing. My family is different from the “norm” in that we always have cooked the vast majority of our food from scratch – even pre-paleo. I have had to start moving away from the old holiday treat and birthday cake recipes to the paleo ones. I figure I will start my own recipe traditions! But still, the biggest complement I can get or give to a paleo recipe is that it tastes like “x” recipe that Grandma made.

  23. The marketing mainly works (I would assume) because it’s on such an unconscious level until someone like Mark goes and points it out!

  24. Those advertisers are really knowledgeable, well researched, and devious. You might think they aren’t effecting you, but they probably are in a way you can’t even identify. If the paleo community is/was less susceptible to advertising than most other people, advertisers probably know that and are researching ways to use that against us in future advertising. Beware

  25. The McDonald’s commercials during the Olympics were the biggest joke to me. Talk about juxtaposition between reality and TV.

    The food commercials are bad, but what’s worse are the advertisements for unnecessary and deadly medication. My poor husband is tortured by my reactions to the claims of “If you have (insert latest fad malady) then you need this (insert poorly named prescription here)! Possible side effects include sudden death, stroke, depression, bleeding episodes….” As they rattle on I keep saying, “Or you could go Primal.” (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry, Love.)

    But isn’t that the whole reason the SAD diet exists? To get us sick enough to “need” the pharmaceutical companies?

    1. To be followed by an add by an attorney’s office asking you if you or a love one had (insert last years malady/cure) call this number so you can get in on the big settlement for all those who were harmed by it.

    2. Don’t forget these: ‘if you’ve developed “x” condition from taking “x” drug, then call the law offices of so-and-so to file a lawsuit claim.

  26. ^ Yes Nicole, the commercials from these companies don’t feel me, but I’m sure they fool many others.

    I always point out to my wife that they ALWAYS have some happy, upbeat music playing as they list all the side-effects (many are life-threatening). They always have the actors smiling and playing through the reading of those side-effects as well. Then, as soon as they are all read, one of the actors says something like “______(drug) changed my life” or something to that effect.

    This is proof that they think our society, as a whole, are dumb as nails. I’m not gonna; I think they’re right.

    1. The idea of advertising prescription drugs is completely bizarre to me. I guess it’s just a culture difference since we do not pay for medication in the UK and therefore there is no point trying to sell us more of it. But I do think it demonstrates how manipulated people are by advertising.

      1. We do pay for medication in the UK, just through your taxes rather than directly, which means that if you never use the doctors (we very rarely do), each visit costs you far more than it would in the U.S.!

        1. Yes, you’re right 🙂 But I meant from the point of view of an advertiser. I very rarely visit the doctors but I’m more than happy to subsidise my elderly relatives in that respect.

      2. Oh you pay for it! By the way, what percentage of your income is taxed???

        1. Since I’m employed, all of my income is taxed at source. You missed the point I was trying to make – I am not commenting on the cost of the different healthcare systems but rather the effect that they have on advertising.

  27. I cant stop thinking of that coke commercial with the boxer chick who’s super hot and skinny, like as if she’d actually drink that normally. and as if i’d need this post to make me think about her.

    1. right or the freaking Hardee’s commercials. all of them are so pathetic.

  28. I thought you might want to know your web site is vulnerable to the Heartbleed SSL bug. I’m getting a warning message from an add-on I have installed to warn me of such sites.

    User logins, passwords, all kinds of stuff can be retrieved via this vulnerability.

    Anyway, other than that, love the blog. Carry on!

    1. In a couple of months I’m going to change ALL of my passwords and security questions. Tonight I get that add-on.

  29. 2 books that might add further color to this discussion.

    1) The Psychology of Influence by Robert Chialdini

    2) Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss

  30. It’s too bad this comment board has turned into exactly what I expected it to be, as I was reading Mark’s article: a forum for people to share how much they dislike advertising, and how absolutely unswayed by it they all are.

    Here’s the thing, I am just as annoyed by advertising as the next person. And I’m also just as committed to a primal diet and lifestyle as the next person. But there’s no way I can sit here and act like I’m not affected by advertising. Even if I don’t go out and buy something I’ve seen advertised doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it.

    I guiltily confessed to my husband the other day how I drive past a McDonald’s billboard on my way to work every day, and the sight of the cheese melting out of the Big Mac makes me want to eat it. Now, there is zero chance of me actually going and buying a Big Mac and eating it, because it would taste bad and make my body hurt. Yet that ad still gets to me in that split second I look at it. And that’s fine!

    1. Agreed! I haven’t regularly watched broadcast TV in 13 years (cancelled my cable when they cancelled Firefly) and on the rare occasions I do see commercials on TV, they have an almost mesmerizing effect on me. They are indeed influential and it takes considerable effort of will on my part to tune out their messages.

      Ditto for billboard advertising, which for me is at least as bad as TV because billboards are just brief, often incomplete glimpses of something when I am doing something else. They seem to have a provocative effect on me because my mind automatically goes “Hey, I didn’t get that whole message, what was that about?? I must examine this in full!!” They are very distracting and it is embarrassing to me how often I have looked away from the road in my attempt to finish reading a billboard. I can generally choose to avoid watching commercials, but it’s impossible to avoid billboards.

    2. True, we are affected by advertising but the fact that a good portion of the commenters here are paleo/primal can only be a testament that we’re not nearly as affected as the next person. All the information we’ve immersed ourselves with like reading the labels,steering clear of the center of the grocery stores,etc.. helps us(doesn’t cure us) with our decision. I’m a basketball fan and when I see my favorite player “powering up” with Gaterade believe me I have no inclination to buy that crap.

    3. I’m very tempted by TV. I know myself, that’s why I don’t watch much tv and completely stay away from commercials. That’s also why I can’t keep any non-primal food in my kitchen, because I’ll eat it! If it’s not there, I won’t eat it and I won’t think about it. Same with television, if I don’t know about it, I don’t care. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind is a great thing when it comes to detrimental commercialism. Especially for kids. You can’t shelter kids from everything, but hopefully primal folks & others will try their hardest to shelter their kids from TV.

    4. If you think you’re not affected by advertising, then they’ve already done their job!

  31. I admit to watching/listening to the “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” commercial every single time it comes on because it has yummy pictures of beef, the Hoe-Down movement from Rodeo and Sam Elliott narrating. 30 seconds of delightful sight and sound!

  32. The most popular kind of advertizing right now is “non-advertizing”.

    Companies pay big money to appear small, homegrown, simple, new and rare. It breaks through to all of us. The companies that will survive and thrive right now are the ones that can appeal to counter cultures type consumers.

    It happens to me every day! I want to throw my money at these cool rare brands that have no advertizing and are “just like me”.

    Hi Primal gang!!

    I miss you guys!

    FARMOSIS, hope all is well!

  33. The amazing part is how deep the connections go. We virtually all get caught with separating foods by the time of day. This is a breakfast food, this is a lunch food and this is only for dinner. Honestly, we know it’s all just fuel, but psychologically we split it out based on the very influences Mark points out. I know this has been (and continues to be) a challenge for me to continually rebel against.

    1. Shift work will cure you of that, and fast. Do it long enough, and you don’t care what the time is, you’ll eat whatever it is you want at the time you’re hungry, the hell with the hour. That’s what happens when your breakfast is at 9 p.m., your lunch is at three a.m., and your supper is at 8 a.m.

  34. Although I already liked the brand of car that was advertised (due to driving several of them ) I did especially like the advertising when it played Led Zeppelin…… I don’t like advertising when it’s late, I’m watching a favorite show (the one or two I really like) and the commercials come on and my brain turns off and I fall asleep, only to wake up AFTER the show is over, RRRRRRR. Other than that I like to judge commercials superficially and their entertainment value. Like really good coupons for what I don’t want to buy, not drawn to cut them out and carry them around to only have them expire in my purse. My young son however, is very influenced by what he sees…… he sees it = he wants it. Even if it has no use in his life he can come up with very convincing (well to him) argument pointing out the value of the item. I try to not laugh out loud as he’s doing his own version of why we NEED whatever, while I remind myself to remove whatever triggered it from view. We “actively watch” commercials letting him know the truth about things that come on the commercials and what is not the truth. It helps him to see what the motive is and not focus on what’s being sold.

  35. I also am amazed when I occasionally watch regular TV with commercials! My emotions run from disgust to bewildered! Disgust when I see “natural” & “heart healthy” signs on cereal & other processed crap. High fructose items concern me as a grandmother. Juice, juice, juice, juice, juice plus variations on the juice theme! I see many things that are basically candy marketed as healthy food, like fruit roll-ups & “energy bars”.

    I know we’ve all been guilty in the past of succumbing to advertising. And I can admit that some of the messages still don’t march past my brain unnoticed, but I don’t blindly act on them. I think I’m much more astute now than I used to be and…no matter who is touting the latest whatever…I tend to do research before “following the crowd” That might be what separates most of the low carb/primal crowd from the rest of the “sheep”.

  36. Apart from the advertizing, what really annoys me is the product placement in the grocery stores – the worst has to be the candy and other snack foods at the checkouts – right where they will have the biggest pester-power from kids. I no longer take my kids grocery shopping (They are at an age where they would rather stay home or hang out with friends), but when I did it was a constant “can I have…” “I want…”, “I am HUNGRY!”. And all of it was for SAD crap.

  37. Long ago and far away, before the DVR was invented and when my children were young, we used advertising to teach them critical thinking. We would pull apart the commercials and discuss what was true or false and what the advertisers motives were.

    I have to say, I must be an advertisers nightmare. I can remember and in fact enjoy the clever commercials but for the life of me, I have no idea what the product is.

    I notice since many of us have DVRs and zip through the commercials, they are now being incorporated into the shows. Sometimes it is product placement but often just blatant and obvious. I can’t decide if it is better or worse than being subjected to them during breaks in the show.

    The most disgusting and off putting commercials for me are from the drug companies. I guess they must work since they are so prevalent.

  38. Some people are mentioning that all, or most, people are swayed by advertising, including the people on here.

    While I do agree with that, I think the important thing, in terms of health, is that you notice an ad for McHeartattack BUT you don’t purchase something from there.

    We all have eyes, ears, etc., but noticing an ad and acting on it are two different things. As one of the other members said, seeing a picture of a McHeartattack burger may look good in the moment, but zero chance of actually buying one.

    1. I think it’s more enlightening to look at the things you do buy rather than the things you notice and avoid. I bet a huge % of you (me included) could go through our cupboards right now and find a load of things that are healthy, a few things that we thought were healthy but on closer inspection we’ve been conned a bit and one thing…well…one small bar of Cadbury’s isn’t going to harm us – we all need a treat…

  39. Processed food is engineered in labs to increase consumption. Read an eye opening book by Michael Moss – called Salt Sugar Fat – and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    Processed foods hit just the right pleasure centers in our brains. (Watch this: The purpose of advertising is to remind us of that pleasure so we keep filling their bank accounts. This formula works (just look at the financial statements of food companies) because many people are subconscious eaters.

  40. Good news. What ad is more persuasive than the face of a little Girl Scout asking if you want to buy cookies? I told her I don’t eat flour or sugar, but if they come up with something healthier to sell, I’d buy it. The adult scout leader standing there said, “They’re working on it.” So there’s that to look forward to.

  41. I hear ya. I do tend to buy strange things from the health food store… although I always read the lables. Got to read the labels.

    The commercials that really move me, though, aren’t for health washed junk. That stuff raises my blood pressure. No, it’s the commercials for the flat out BAD stuff that make me want to get one. Like that new commercial for McDonald’s fillet o’fish burger or the Dairy Queen’s blizzard in a waffle cone. Damn, I love Blizzards…

  42. The unending avalanche of food advertisements definitely sucks but what really gets me are the commercials/ads/billboards for prescription drugs. I can’t stand listening to some announcer go on about how this or that pill is going to magically cure your disease – especially when it’s immediately followed up with a huge list of side effects. This pill might help your arthritis but it will also eat your liver, make you cough up your lungs, and then kill you. Um yay?

  43. I am reading a book about advertising and subliminal messages as we speak…
    I used to fall for the “10 for 10” deals but now see the evill in it all! I have felt so good since going primal in Jan of this year that oreos, doritos and (fill in your weakness here) can go some place…keep up the good work fellow apples 🙂

  44. I remember drooling over the tv when food ads would come on, but that was before I changed my diet. It now makes me sick to see and smell greasy junk food.

  45. For me the choice is pretty easy. If my food comes from a box or packet, it will get me back to fatness and poor health.

    So it’s a no. Just like that.

    I much rather have fruit and beef.

    Great post, Mark!

  46. I’m always astounded by advertisements in magazines…one page is for chocolate covered granola bars, or some “healthy” jello snack; the next page is “Ask your doctor if Ritalin is right for your child.”

  47. I know commercials affect me….and I agree about the drug ads. They are the worst. There was a particular ad for a depression medication that would practically have me in tears every time I saw it due to the sad music, sad people, and sad pets! I try to be mindful about them and see them for what they are….it’s just about companies wanting your money. Too bad so much energy and money gets put into ad development when it could be used for something better.

  48. I’m only a few months into the Primal lifestyle, somehow I find it easy to resist all the crappy food that I used to think I enjoyed. If I’m forced to watch food commercials I just note all the products that I will never purchase again, it’s very liberating!

  49. Love Whole Foods. Probably because I don’t live near one, or a Trader Joe’s. So it’s a novelty thing for me. There is a WF 10 minutes from my sister’s house, and whenever I visit her, that’s my thing. Let’s go to WF! Mostly I focus on meats, cheeses, and wine. Mark didn’t mention this, but WF has SAMPLES. Of CHEESES. That will cause me to throw list and “budget” (yeah, right) out the window. My husband cringes because he knows I’m going to spend too much money. My sister is happy because we’re going to eat well!

  50. “Ask your doctor if it’s right for you”……shouldn’t my doctor KNOW without being asked?

  51. This is why I gave up TV when I moved out of my parents’ house, way back when. Haven’t had one since. Don’t intend to get one. Oh, I catch the occasional show on Netflix, but I always mute the commercials and turn away while they’re running.

    The reason I originally gave up commercials was because I’m a composer, and the jingles were finding their way into the music I was writing. Even though I had no intention of ever buying the stuff being advertised, I was still affected in a fairly significant way. I wanted to keep my subconscious clear of all that garbage. Commercials are a form of brainwashing.

  52. Also, the frequency at which some ads are run on TV is a huge turn off. When I visit my family and watch TV, the exact same ads appear during the commercial breaks over and over again! So annoying. The best solution I have for that is to pre-record shows and fast forward all this nonsense during replay.

  53. I find it easy to avoid temptation by sticking to outer isles in the shops. There is rarely any ad on TV for salad or tomatoes and if it’s for meat, it’s usually steak or cheap chicken that’s from a butcher or something instead of being produced by some mega company.
    Since I became paleo I am not looking to replace unhealthy desserts with “healthy” alternatives that mimic the taste of the unhealthy one. I simply don’t feel the need to snack or have desserts ( why would one want more food after eating a meal? ).

    It’s a bit like vegans trying desperately to replace burgers and chicken with processed “vegan” crap that tastes and looks as much as the very food they don’t want to eat ( think quorn stakes/sausages/burgers/”chicken pieces” )

    In general I try to shop online as much as possible. I type in “organic” or “grass-fed” and get loads of alternatives, different brands, some I’ve never even heard of. I compare the ingredients, look out for chemicals I want to avoid ( like in shower gels or toothpaste ) and make my choice, click “order” and I’m done.
    No impulse purchases, no temptation to get this or that brand. Simples.

  54. My husband is so susceptible to advertising that he will see a commercial for a Snickers bar, get on his coat, grab his keys and go to the store to buy one (plus whatever else catches his eye while he is out there).

    I find that when we zip through the commercials on the DVR, even though we are zipping through at 4x, the commercials still register. It’s insidious.

    Thanks for the reminder, Mark, that we can be susceptible to advertising no matter how much we embrace and enjoy the primal/paleo lifestyle. I cannot imagine eating any other way now, but I do find myself wishing for a sweet delicious Cosmo martini every now and again when they show up on a commercial (Skinny Girl, ChiChi’s, etc)…

    PS) one of the games we play in this house with our sons is “product placement” – we are GOOD at picking off every product placement in every tv show, movie and Netflix original series…

  55. We are going to see more so-called paleo items being advertised. I am getting ready for a overseas trip, and was intrigued to see a “paleo bar” listed in my co-op. Fortunately, I checked the product’s website and found it includes cane sugar – now how is that paleo?

    I really love walking into grocery stores and feeling utterly immune to the processed products they promote so heavily! I just head to the produce aisle!

  56. I baked paleo muffins, they taste really good, I know they are healthier, but they are still sitting in the fridge after two weeks. It must be the sugar cravings we have that keeps up eating the bad stuff.

  57. I have a sudden urge for M&Ms. I don’t even like them. At least they won’t melt in my hands.

  58. I can’t remember what movie I got this quote from, but a photographer was talking about the magazine advertising business. “Every ad makes a promise, and if the photograph is any good, the promise is always broken.”

    I try to keep that in mind anytime I see an ad for anything, but especially if it seems to be targeted to a paleo-whole-food-farm-to-table mindset. Just because they know the buzzwords to get a target demographic’s attention doesn’t mean it isn’t the same crap that’s advertised differently somewhere else.

  59. It’s always bugged me, that Google has a motto of “Do No Evil”, yet they still work so hard at plastering advertisements over every publicly available information source. I mean, who asked for Trix?, except advertisers. It’s not so much free choice, as privately guided and advertisement driven choice. You can avoid it, but you must choose to do so.

    You can choose.

  60. One truth, for our life in America, is that not only can you choose, but so can the advertisers. We can ask for unprocessed foods, if possible grown locally. And we can make our preferences public. If enough people do then the products will be there.

    Meanwhile, patronize you local farmers market.

  61. I’m pretty good about the processed stuff, and avoid eating what I don’t prepare for myself. When I do find myself “craving” something, I review my last 48 hours. Did I lift more than usual? Get more cardio than normal? Was my sleep choppy? Stress? Am I getting enough fat and carbs?

    This reflection helps me to adjust my diet so I don’t crave things my body’s lacking making it effortless to pass on the new bag of goldfish crackers. Most processed food contains sugar [chemicals, lab fats, excessive salt] so I visualize cancer. Cancer feeds on sugar (there was a study done on this in Australia). I’d be lying to say the bad stuff doesn’t creep into my diet, but when it does, I make a conscious effort to embrace how crappy I feel. 100% of the time, it wasn’t worth it.

    GREAT article Mark! You’re so spot on about advertising AND annoying commercials–the #2 reason I dread Christmas every year, lol.

  62. Yeah, I like to stay out of touch, even with websites, that’s why my comment is a week late and will be read by no one, but just in case:

    There’s an important point I think this article doesn’t make which is… a huge majority of “grocery” items stocked by co-ops (most of the time these are the ones along the inner aisles- perimeter shopping is always better) are produced by the s a m e *imprecating expletive* companies that bring you such fine offerings as line the Brightly Colored Sugar Box aisle, the Zesty Nostalgic Corn Syrup Condiment Aisle, the GMO Carb-wealthy Fluffy Fructose Starch (bread) aisle, I could go on.

    They just put them in a more dull format with soy ink on recycled cardboard, and it looks oh-so-healthy… Don’t like Trix? How about Mountain Valley Forest Soy Nugget Extruded Grain Flakes? In a very brown and green package! MMM.

    Same company, they still know you and how to separate you from your money… and your health.

  63. I saw this commercial the other day and it made me legitimately mad:

    Mazola Oil vs Olive Oil

    The sad thing is as long as it seems like they have some sort of health claim to back up the b.s. they’re selling, someone will fall for it.

    I watch tv commercials and it makes me upset. I worry about those that fall for the marketing when I listen to the drug prescription side effects on pharma commercials and hearing about the latest fast food nightmare food.

    This article has been posted before, but I think it’s mind blowing to see the science behind mass food production (if you haven’t read this, read it):

    Knowledge is Power!!!! Especially in regards to your health!

  64. We don’t have a TV. Don’t have time. My kids have never had one. We don’t use the radio in the car except to listen to the phone or the occasional podcast; we talk with each other instead. We run ad blockers on all our computers and phones so the only ads we see are billboards and buses. My kids like to look for hidden messages and symbols in them so they’re more of a fun puzzle project than anything they’d be swayed by. They have never eaten food with a cartoon on it.

    The result of all my ‘insulating’? My kids are savvy consumers, they read labels, they raise and prepare most of their own food, are solid athletes and are rarely sick. They can give you a lecture about what ranching practices raise or diminish levels of conjugated linoleic acid or A1 vs A2 casein or the evils of glyphosate. Yeah, we’re complete weirdos because we can’t name a single Laker or Dodger, but my kids do know Denise Minger, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser and Robb Wolf. We’re a happy and healthy family who play and live together, mostly outdoors, and that’s what really matters.

    Kill your TV. After the initial withdrawal period your life will be richer, you’ll have more time for the people around you, you’ll have less stress and anxiety and you’ll have more money. But be prepared to be weird. Not like the others. But hey, you probably already run around barefoot and avoid pizza and beer so you’re probably already most of the way down the path anyway.

  65. As someone who enjoys studying people I actually find advertisements quite fascinating constructs. They are designed with every semiotic and information design trick in the book to work with the human psyche to associate specific brands with some sort of vague, existential concept that is often completely and entirely besides the point (well…the point of the product anyways; the point of a corporation attempting to maintain a loyal consumer base by abusing human cognition is being fulfilled with aplomb).

    For anyone who is interested further I suggest starting at for a look into Cognitive Sciences and then move forward into general theories of advertisement, information and ESPECIALLY semiotics. The world becomes a much more intriguingly slanted place once you start to unmask the layers of semiotics.

  66. I don’t watch much commercial TV in the UK, so don’t have to suffer constant commercial breaks which annoy me when they happen in the middle of a good film etc. If I need to buy a different food which I haven’t bought before, I always read the labels to decide which brand to buy. This has been neccessary for a long time now as I’m a Coeliac and I choose the brand that is suitable for my diet. I’m sure I’m as affected by advertising as the next person, I just have more exact parameters to guide me.