Thursday, September 20, 2007

“Healthy” chips?

Those wonderful people at ‘McCain’s’ sent me the following e-mail -

Hello there,

I came across your blog “Mr Read: How not to teach” and having seen that you like writing about various issues relating to literacy in schools, I thought you might also like to take a look at a new educational website called “The Potato Story” (

The Potato Story has been launched by McCain Foods in support of the nationwide “Year of Food and Farming” campaign. Aimed at primary school children, the website incorporates interactive learning tools and information on food provenance, plant growth and nutrition to help engage school children in ICT, literacy and numeracy. Everything is aligned with the National Curriculum at Key Stage 2.

I’d really like to send you some more information so please let me know if you find the website interesting and think it would be useful.



This raises some interesting points; McCain’s obviously employ people to monitor the blogosphere. As TV advertising becomes increasingly ineffective - multi-channels, people not watching adverts, the ‘hidden persuaders’ have had to resort to more subtle means. Product placement has begun to feature prominently in films, the worst example being ‘Run Fat Boy Run’ – one enormous advert for Nike.

Naomi Klein in ‘No Logo’ detailed some of the ‘creative’ methods advertisers use. Drinks companies employ students to hang around union bars and engage people in conversation about their ‘favourite’ drinks. The most devious one I read about was a text service that won a contract from a football club to supply fans with updates. Despite extensive advertising in the club programme the response was poor. A PR company hired some casually dressed young people to go into some of the pubs on match day. They had a ‘petition’ with them, one of their mates had been disciplined in work for receiving text updates, they got out a mobile and showed the fans the updates and just happened to have a screwed up advertising leaflet in their back pocket…

With the obesity panic multinational firms are battling to change public perceptions. McDonald’s conceded the biggest PR own goal with the McLibel trial and then the humiliation from ‘Super Size Me’. It’s true that McCain’s new ‘healthy’ chips contain low amounts of fat and score highly in comparison with other chips. However, the concept of ‘healthy’ chips is a bit like ‘healthy’ sausages, it’s a misnomer, a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. The message we should be giving to children is eat fruit and vegetables, but that doesn’t include mounds of potatoes, however they are dressed up.

As for the ‘free’ curriculum materials I certainly wont be using them. It’s a bit like ‘cause-related’ marketing i.e., computers for schools. It’s just one step away from the dubious ‘sponsorship’ deals that blight American schools. Advertising can be found on book covers, half of their students received free exercise books with covers advertising Frosted Flakes and Lays Potato Chips. There are also branded menus in school canteens; coupons from fast food companies as rewards for reading; sponsor’s logos on schools buses, websites, sports fields, gyms, libraries and playgrounds, also school events can be paid for by corporations.

Thanks for your e-mail kind people at ‘McCain’s’ but my reply is based on two words, the second of which is ‘Off’.


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