Let's start with a little word association game. I want you to clear your mind completely. Here, listen to some peaceful Caribbean wave sounds if you need some help -- maybe not all four hours. Once you're nice and clear-headed, I'm going to give you a phrase and I want you to consider the first word that comes to mind immediately. Ready?
The phrase is "frozen foods."
Now, I'm going to go ahead and hazard a guess that none of you came up with the word "fresh." (If you did, feel free to explain your methodology in the comments section below!) Despite being called "mental" quite a few times in my life, I'm no mentalist. But it's still pretty easy to guess that people don't think the word "fresh" when they read "frozen foods." There's a distinct reason for that:
Over the years, fast food corporations have waged a war on the word "frozen,", trying to persuade consumers into seeing that as a dirty word, something evil that must be avoided. For the most part, this has simply been a marketing technique without much substance, an Orwellian bit of doublespeak meant to confuse and trick consumers into believing their products are better. "Fresh," in the fast food nomenclature, certainly doesn't mean "healthy." In a lot of cases, it doesn't even mean "not frozen," seeing as the USDA allows for a pretty wide-open interpretation when the phrase is used in ads. And the ads have certainly done their work over the years on consumers who, as this great piece over at AdAge makes clear, are avoiding the frozen food sections of grocery stores like they're storing chilled portions of the plague:
According to proprietary research from the organizations, 98% of products in the frozen aisle are experiencing flat or declining sales in the U.S., across nearly all categories.
This is certainly good news if you're at all concerned about the health of the country. As the piece goes on, "Driving these declines are more health-conscious consumers and their association of frozen foods with high sodium, sugar, fat, calories and preservatives." But believing a $70 billion-a-year industry is going to give in and simply die off without a fight is like thinking Kobe Bryant has played his last game in the NBA. They're both resilient to the point of being obsessive. So instead, the frozen food industry is spending a portion of that massive budget hiring marketers and advertising agencies to persuade consumers, once again, to trust the refrigerated middle section of grocery stores.
Among the suggestions the Don Draper-like ad wizards came up with:
McCann presented a strategy to "redefine frozen" with the tagline, "Frozen. How fresh stays fresh," and a mix of tactics such as paid ads, sampling and integrating frozen- and fresh-food products in grocery aisles. A second proposal showed how the agency would "challenge assumptions" and overcome the idea that frozen has become a dirty word. Edelman proposed the tagline, "Fresh just frozen," while Ogilvy offered "Open up to frozen."
Which isn't to say all frozen foods are bad, or that fast food joints have a point when saying their products are "fresh, never frozen." It's just that consumers need to be aware of the manipulative forces at work, all around them, everyday, trying to get them to buy, buy, buy. And instead of responding to buzzwords, shoppers need to actually do the homework themselves. Being aware this kind of research/advertising is taking place, then, is the first protective step to avoid being the dogs to advertiser's bell-ringing hands.
As NBC used to put it, "The More You Know."