Bad Ads?

I have been writing recently about the role of science in advertising as the "new glam." A Yoplait television ad brings a new dimension to this discussion. Is it possible for TV ads to deliver subliminal potentially harmful messages, whether intentional or not?

Ads are everywhere, of course, in all forms of media. The market research firm Yankelovich estimates that we are exposed to, incredibly, up to 5,000 ads per day!

Below is the commercial that sparked considerable controversy from a health advocacy group:

According to the National Eating Disorders Association:

"The language in this advertising campaign was seriously problematic for those affected by eating disorders and anyone who may have a predisposition towards developing one. We applaud Yoplait and General Mills for taking the time to speak with us, listening to our concerns and their quick action to provide a solution. I believe the company had no intent to harm and gained insight into a very serious issue that we hope will influence their marketing decisions in the future. Congratulations to any and all who may have written to the company with concerns. And thank you again, Yoplait and General Mills, for assuming a leadership role in corporate responsibility and accountability."

What was the company's response? They pulled the ad.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) applauds Yoplait and parent company General Mills for their sensitivity in agreeing to remove an advertising campaign that many felt had negative implications for people suffering from eating disorders or those with a pre-disposition to developing such an illness.

Is this a case of an unintentional subliminal message in an ad, or does it convey an effective message to buy their product? Is pulling the ad an overreaction?

An article by Laura Stampler on this controversy points out:

"I was shocked by how they really nailed it on the head--that's exactly what I thought every time I opened a refrigerator door," said Jenni Schaefer, who remembers experiencing negatives feelings towards food as young as 4 years old. Scheafer battled anorexia in high school and bulimia in college; she began treatment for her disease when she was 22 years old. Now 35, she considers herself fully recovered and has written two books on recovering from eating disorders.

Ms. Stampler also shares in her article some other ads that are, in my opinion, more disturbing and potentially harmful because they are targeted to children. Her examples include a push up bra for young girls (as young as 8 years old!) and Sketchers "Shape Up" athletic shoes for young girls.

Is this going too far? I will continue to explore the roles of both science, medicine and ethics in advertising and welcome your thoughts.

Thanks to my colleague Dr. Robin Landa, author of "Advertising by Design: Generating and Designing Creative Ideas Across Media" for pointing out this ad.

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Howbout Yoplait's upside-down looking cups? They stand out on the shelf but when an animal sticks its head into one, it's not coming off until some flesh decomposes.

In this case the ones going too far were Yoplait for making this ad in the first place and making disordered thinking seem normal. I have an eating disorder, and let me tell you that that woman's thoughts in the commercial are exactly what goes through my head almost every time I open the fridge.

Thank you for sharing a personal insight; much appreciated.