I keep hearing people say that advertising doesn’t drive demand for certain, mostly highly processed food products. They claim that everyone has the freedom to choose. That no one is holding a gun to their head to eat Twinkees or Doritos.
Granted, most of the people I’m hearing this from are defending a position in today’s industrial food system that will likely be negatively impacted if status quo shifts, which partially explains the defensive reactions.
In fairness to them, and to make sure that everything I learned in business school and nearly 20 years of marketing, I found data to help people better understand the massive role advertising plays in building demand. Consider the following information from AdvertisingAge’s Marketer Tree 2009 survey (2008 data), which includes the more popular brands these dollars are supporting.
- Unilever: $2.4 billion on advertising; $59.6 billion in sales (Bertolli, Slim-Fast, Hellman’s, Ragu, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Bryers, Klondick, Ben & Jerry’s)
- Kraft Foods: $1.3 billion on advertising; $42.2 billion in sales (Oscar Mayer, Oreos, DiGiorno, Ritz, Chips Ahoy, Lunchables, Nabisco, Kool-Aid, Cool Whip)
- PepsiCo: $1.3 billion on advertising; $43.3 billion in sales (Gatorade, Quaker, Lays, Tropicana, Tostitos, Sun Chips, Doritos, Cheetos, Frito-Lay, Fritos)
- Nestle: $1.2 billion on advertising; $101.8 billion in sales (yes, >$100 billion!; Stouffer’s, Lean Cuisine, Juicy Juice, Hot Pockets)
- General Mills: $1.2 billion on advertising; $13.7 billion in sales (Yoplait, Pillsbury, Progresso, Betty Crocker, Totino’s, various cereals)
- Kellogg Co.: $820 million on advertising; $12.8 billion in sales (various cereals, Eggo, Cheez-It, Pop-Tarts, Town House)
- Coca-Cola Co.: $752 million on advertising; $32.0 billion in sales (Minute Maid, Simply, Powerade, Sprite, Fuze)
- Campbell Soup Co.: $711 million on advertising; $8.0 billion in sales (Pepperidge Farms, Swanson, Pace, Prego)
- ConAgra Foods: $352 million on advertising; $11.6 billion in sales (Healthy Choice, Hunt’s, Reddi-Whip, Pam)
- Wal-Mart: $1.7 billion on advertising; $401 billion in sales (yes, sales >$400 billion)
- Kroger Co.: $532 million on advertising; $76 billion in sales
- Safeway: $420 million on advertising; $44 billion in sales
Leading Fast Food Companies
- McDonald’s: $1.2 billion on advertising; $23.5 billion in sales
- YUM Brands: $960 million on advertising; $11.3 billion in sales (KFC, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell)
- Wendy’s/Arby’s: $453 million on advertising; $3.6 billion in sales
Looking at this list and considering the incredibly sophisticated advertising and marketing methodologies being employed by these companies and their respective ad agencies, are there still questions regarding the huge influence this has on “choice?”
Yes, people have free wills and Constitutional freedoms, but we’re also highly susceptible to outside influences, e.g., >$15.o billion spent by these companies to build profitable demand for products (see Billion Dollar Club below for list of Top 100 food companies).
To suggest otherwise is naive or, worse, deceiving.
Rob Smart is a food entrepreneur focusing on regional food systems and consumer retail experiences. He blogs on alternative food systems at Every Kitchen Table and Civil Eats (guest blogger), and micro-blogs on Twitter as Jambutter.