No doubt about it: America is schizophrenic about food. Just when the national rhetoric is focusing on all things “local” and “sustainable,” the carrot industry has launched an advertising campaign that promotes baby carrots as anything but real. Until I saw the videos in the “Eat ‘Em like Junk Food” series at BabyCarrots.com, I never realized that baby carrots could stand in for missiles or bullets or a phallus. No more Bugs Bunny or Spongebob Squarepants, those innocent branding icons of the past. Edginess now turns people on.
I find it weird that carrots are being positioned as junk food. With all the hype about labeling and obsession with calories, shouldn’t carrots be marketed as calorie-free and vitamin-rich? Instead, most of the videos feature a sexy woman who can’t get enough…baby carrots. She rubs them suggestively along her naked arm, exhorting the viewer to “indulge.” Or she sets her (machine-gun) sights on a hunky young guy who succumbs to her powers and literally explodes into thousands of baby carrots for her pleasure. The “nerd” in the clip shown here likewise explodes after a diabolical woman with carrot-colored eyes and hair subjects him to a linear-accelerator-like device, taking the trope of “crunch” to the extreme. With its special effects and futuristic vibe, this commercial couldn’t be further removed from the context of wholesome carrots growing naturally in the ground. Oddly, though, the commercial opens with just that allusion: a folksy male voice and cheerful orange logo announce “Brought to you by a bunch of carrot farmers.” Then it’s back to the future as the palette shifts to a ghoulish black and orange and a synthesized voice proclaims, “Behold! The future of crunch!”
Not that baby carrots were ever truly natural. In the vegetable’s long history they are veritable infants, having entered the world only in 1986. In an effort to avoid waste, misshapen adult carrots were fed through an industrial peeling machine, and the babies were born. If, in the past, these preternaturally shaped carrots were cast as cute, they are now touted as weapon-like projectiles. What does this say about our relationship to food? What does it say about our desires?
Don't Mess With a Bunch of Carrot Farmers
Thanks, Darra, for this great start to the week! You’re right: How odd that a bunch of carrot farmers wouldn’t capitalize on America’s recent embrace of natural foods, especially vegetables, as sung by the growing slow/whole foods movement. It seems like a missed opportunity. Unless, perhaps, that’s the point. Bolthouse Farms, the company behind the ad’s “Bunch of Carrot Farmers,” recently had an unfavorable clash with another political movement (the company was boycotted by Californians Against Hate—mistakenly, it seems—over Proposition 8), and maybe this appeal to the “fantasy of every teenage nerd” works to skirt a potential tangle with politically minded locavores. Of course, if this fantasy allows an escape from one sort of politics, it invites in another: It’s hard not to be creeped out by this self-conscious mix of torture, fascism, and sex—something like “Advertising in a Time of War.”
The Baby in Baby Carrots
Or the teenager, actually. This is a great video and a great post, Darra. I would simply add the obvious fact that this ad is clearly targeted at a teenage market with the assumption that this is a demographic in love with all things artificial, futuristic, and sexy. If you can't induce a love of nature in your teenager, why not transform the natural world into an artificial one?
What? Baby carrots are not really baby carrots but miniature whittled-down misshapen adult carrots? How did I miss this?
Peeled vegetables rapidly lose flavor, and I have always found that (so-called) baby carrots lack taste. Perhaps Darra has revealed why.
As for the ad: if the baby carrots aren't really baby carrots, maybe marketing them as something other than vegetables makes a certain amount of sense. The ads are amusing in a perverse sort of way, though I can't say they inspire the desire to eat. (Who wants to find a carrot in a bag of chips?)
The Future of Crunch
Thank you for such a wonderful start to the week, Darra. I found this video and your text incredibly fascinating, particularly in light of the growing fight against obesity in the United States. While I found all of the special effects/geek fantasy imagery incredibly compelling, what really fascinated me about this segment was the emphasis on the "crunch" itself as a selling feature of the product's experience. One of the things I have always found intriguing about food and media is how they engage with our visual and aural senses in an attempt to make the product seem "real" through lack of taste. In this instance, the crunch became both a means of intriguing our senses while also emphasizing the product's place within the fantasy/special effects imagery used in the marketing campaign. The nerd himself is in fact blindfolded and never really sees the fantasy in front of him, and it is the symphony of crunch that launches him forward towards his transformation. Considering that a "crunch factor" is oftentimes a major selling point for junk food, I was wondering if you had any thoughts regarding emphasizing that one specific aspect of the baby carrot's "experience," and whether or not that might be another major selling point in addition to the fantastic futuristic and sexualized imagery.
Whittled little vegetables
How have I just been walking around cluelessly, knowing nothing about this insane commercial? Thank you for posting this, Darra. I think my favorite moment is the one baby carrot, slightly larger than the rest, that burst into the foregound after the nerd has met his reward as an explosion of carrots--is it just me or does that carrot originate from a rather phallic place? I love the idea that this ad may be tacitly, or accidentally, acknowledging the manufactured nature of these whittled little vegetables. What really strikes me about the commercial, though, after several rapt viewings, is the sheer silliness of the whole enterprise, especially when you look at it as something intended to whet an appetite. I keep thinking of the Simpsons' vision of advertising and and network execs, cravenly mashing up the random elements they've heard the kids kinda like, and hoping one--any one!-- will stick.
Contemplating the Crunch
Thanks to all of you for your lively responses. As it happens, I never would have known of this video, either, had it not been for one of my students, who pointed it out to me with disdain, as an example of all that is wrong with the American food system. Rather than seeing it as a mashup of all our great appetites -- for love, for sex, for technology, for food -- he found the ad silly, a misapprehension of what turns his peers on. I, on the other hand, was enthralled by its bizarreness, and immediately went to the parent site to view all the related videos! So I suspect that there may be a secret audience out there beyond fantasy-driven nerds. (Not that the ad got me to buy baby carrots -- we still prefer ours in arrested development, pulled out of the ground before they're allowed to mature.)
As for the crunch, have you ever held a limp carrot in your hand? Not good. Crunch expresses the carrot's very essence. Crunch is far more than a one-bite stand; it continues to resonate in our ears as we munch. Sound is important, as Frito-Lay discovered to its dismay last summer. The new, compostable packaging for SunChips proved too loud for consumers, who protested vociferously, causing the company to develop a quieter package at enormous expense. Which leads me to wonder what the baby carrot bag sounds like.
Wow! Interesting stuff. As a
Wow! Interesting stuff. As a 21 year old I can see how this ad can appeal to teens and people my age. At a time when we are concerned with health and the national obesity crisis, along with the continuously evolving digital revolution, it makes perfect sense that combining the two to advertise is an obvious next step. Grounding it in the opening by stating that the commercial is "brought to you by a bunch of carrot farmers" mediates the edginess of the commercial and also appeals to demographics other than teens and the twenty- somethings, for example mom's with children. It is also reflexive commercial that addressing the sci fi action genre and its characteristics that make it recognizable to audiences. By being self reflexive while also being "edgy" or trendy" makes the ad very successful for young viewers. It makes it look "cool" to be healthy, and might make carrot eating more "socially acceptable". The commercial does push the limits though, with the carrot exploding from the guys phallic region. Subtle aspects of the commercial like this are probably un recognized by most viewers, and are more unconscious which can be more threatening. What ideologies do commercials like this (which are intended for us as consumers to accept as a way for us to be healthier) enforce and support. There is definitely commentary on technology and digitalization, and how it is connoted as futuristic and more importantly sexy. Then there is the nerdy guy and the sexy futuristic girl who eat's carrots. The male is subjected to a weird launching progress and explodes into carrots for the woman's satisfaction. This commercial is weird on so many levels, and enforces and challenges gender stereotypes in regards to women being in power and possessing the gaze as well as male desire in regards to women.
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