Why do some staple foods have advertisements for them, and not others?

Isn’t it weird what staple foods you see commercials for? I frequently see advertisements for Milk, Cream, Cheese, Butter, Eggs, Pork, and so forth. Not particular brands, but for those products as such. (“Drink Milk!” “Eat Eggs!”) These are expensive, ubiquitous ad campaigns I’m talking about (Canadians of a certain age will recall, with some chagrin, “the Cheese Guy”).

Why do some staple food products have advertisements and not others? Why don’t I ever see a metro billboard vaunting the virtues of Potatoes, or see a TV commercial exhorting me to eat Bread?

Well, for things like cream, cheese, butter, eggs, and, to a lesser extent, pork, I think part of it is that the public has been sufficiently scared into believing that they are horribly bad for you and should be completely cut from the healthy eaters’ diet. Also, they are backed by large industry associations like (in the US) the National Dairy Council, the American Egg Board, and the National Pork Board. Also in the US, the US Potato Board does it’s bit to spread the word about potatoes, they just haven’t chosen to go the television route as extensively as the other industries. I’m sure Canada has similar organizations.

In all likelihood this is a product of the existence, or lack thereof, of alternative goods. Some produts have alternatives. The ultimate example is Coke and Pepsi, which are basically the same shit, but there’s bagrillions of dollars to be made if you can swing people from one product to its alternative.

Other foods, such as the ones you cite, have imperfect alternatives - you might choose to eat completely different foods. Cheese is a good example; the amount of cheese a person eats is extremely variable. I don’t eat cheese much; some people eat mounds of the stuff. Cheese can be replaced with other foods, and so presumably, increasing brand awareness of cheese and making people think it’s tasty can measurably increase the consumption of cheese. Eggs are much the same. My wife eats piles of them; I don’t mind eggs but couldn’t care less if I ever ate another. You can affect the number of eggs people eat, espeically since, as seodoa points out, some people think they’re unhealth yand might be convinced to eat more if convinced they’re good for you. Milk is another; people can either drink milk, or drink fruit juices or water or whatever, so it’s in the interests of the dairy industry to convince you to replace other drinks with milk, and with enough advertising, they can do it.

Meat is an even better example, because people can choose to eat no meat at all, or if they do eat meat their mixes of meat can vary wildly; some people will eat lots of chicken, some lots of pork, some beef, so on and so forth. If you can swing some customers from eating beef to eating chicken you cna make chicken farmers richer.

By comparison, potatoes are just potatoes. People will eat a fairly predictable amount of potatoes and bread. Their consumption levels are, presumably, not easily affected by advertising. You’ll also notice rice isn’t much advertised - instant brands do get some advertising, but product awareness for rice just doesn’t happen. Fundamental staples will get eaten one way or another.

Huh. I was sort of aware of that but I guess it never occurred to me that there was such a sharp division between staples with malleable vs. non-malleable demand. (Milk, for example – I wouldn’t have thought that such a large market share would be in the malleable department, assuming that most liquid milk would be used in coffee, in cereal, and as a beverage for children, to a relatively inflexible extent, and that the more flexible adult beverage market would be such a small share in comparison to those that there wouldn’t be a point in advertising.)

However, it also occurs to me that you don’t see advertisements for specific types of fruits or vegetables. (You do see advertisements calling on you to eat fruits and vegetables in general, but those are usually from health authorities/charities.) You’d think that a person could be swayed to eat more carrots instead of celery, or asparagus instead of broccoli, or raspberries instead of strawberries. I wonder why they don’t advertise more.

In the last few years, for example, pomegranates have moved in to local stores and all kinds of products such as juices and such, no doubt propelled by the antioxidant craze. I frequently see large, prominently placed displays of pomegranates in supermarkets when in season, with advertising displays and a brand name (“POM,” which in Quebec oddly also happens to be a brand of white Wonder-type bread) – and yet I don’t see pomegranates advertised in other media, such as on TV, on billboards, or in periodicals.

The pomegranate thing is pretty much the entire responsibility of a couple who bought a pomegranate farm about 8 years ago: The Truth Behind The Pomegranate Craze.

Well, so much the better, because I love pomegranates and did even when they were impossible to find, so anything that makes them more readily available is good news to me, even if the ‘science’ is complete booshwa.

The ones you see ads for collect money from the growers to promote the product. This is usually not a voluntary contribution. These ads come into being because the producers want a larger market share and don’t promote a specific brand, but a product. The dairy board started ads against orange grower ads because the orange growers started putting down drinking milk. The dairy board next promoted against the fake cheese and came up with the Real Seal for cheese and promoted it. There is always a reason to promote, just not an entity in existence to direct a campaign. Most people don’t like to be grouped together involuntarily and to be taxed yearly to have something they produce promoted. They’d rather advertise their own company brand even if it’s a family company.


I can think of a number of vegetable/fruit-specific advertising campaigns over the years, but they always seem to be linked to regional entities, not national: Florida oranges (Florida Department of Citrus), Washington apples (Washington Apple Commission), Idaho potatoes (yes, there are “eat potatoes!” ads in various media, thanks to the Idaho Potato Commission), California raisins (Remember the Claymation ads? Courtesy of the California Raisin Advisory Board).

I have seen ads for Idaho potatoes in the past. Ads for bread tend to be for specific brands, like Wonder Bread. I’m guessing there is no “US Council for Bread” that chooses to advertise (Or “US Bread Board”, which would be kind of funny :). )


I’ve seen Idaho potato ads, and I’ve seen specific bread brands advertised…“Ironkids” fortified white bread, and also a brand of “white” wheat bread whose name I can’t recall (great advertising!). Mrs. Baird also does bread ads.

I always assumed that ads for staples like milk, eggs, cheese, etc., were “reminder” ads, like “Yes, milk is good for you, and no, eggs don’t have as much cholesterol as you think, and cheese does have lots of protein and calcium in it…”

California Cheese is doing a big push now with their “Happy Cows live in California” campaign. “Look for Real California Cheese.”

I also hear ads for both Californian and Mexican avocados. At least on local radio.

I guess with every new diet/nutrition fad, these “staples” of the American diet feel threatened, and have to remind people that they are worth consuming. I never gave up milk, eggs, cheese, potatoes, bread, or anything else, but I can see how diet/nutrition fads could threaten their bottom dollar to the point that they feel the need to advertise themselves. I’m sure bakers worried about the Atkins diet; I’m sure low-fat/cholesterol diets threatened eggs and cheese, etc…

The one thing I don’t see ads for is ordinary, regular, full-fat-who-cares BUTTER.

Not margarine, not “butter spreads,” not “butter alternatives,” but real no-holds-barred-manufactured-as-a-stick BUTTER.

I find that a bit curious.

Eggs are eggs. Potatoes are potatoes. But bread is flour, and yeast, and salt, and a number of other things. Bread is a consortium. For there to be an Ohio Bread Council, the groups would have to get together. When the price of wheat goes up, the other components are affected. The Idaho Potato Board doesn’t have to worry about whether there was a good peanut harvest.

I predict we will see butter advertising; there are ads for brands of butter – Land O’ Lakes, especially, but I don’t see generic “Eat butter” ads. I bet we will.

[complete and utter mpsims hijack]

The Sunday morning political talking head shows have a high concentration of this sort of commercial. Besides ads for generic food – corn is always well-represented – there are other unexpected spots: cotton, railroad shipping, etc.

One ad that ran over and over again a few years back was for plastic. Seriously. Among the menagerie of testimonials singing the praises of plastic was a little girl with a shy, lispy, just-learned-to-talk voice saying “this vest saved my Dad’s life” while a bullet-proof vest (and other law enforcement imagery) appeared on the screen.

My brother and I found ourselves distorting it to “Plastic saved my Dad’s life”, and it’s still an inside joke for us when we see one of these seemingly pointless commercials to chime in – in little-girl voice – “Pork saved my Dad’s life”, “Railroads saved my Dad’s life”, and so on.

Good times.


I don’t know if this is a sign of the times changing or not, but I can remember when I was little seeing commercials for particular brands of flour.

They never struck me odd until reading this thread.

I seem to recall hearing that you don’t hear most fruits & vegetables advertised a lot because those companies don’t have the dollars to do it. Plus, fruits & vegetables just aren’t as popular as chips, cookies, candy and soda, depending on your demographic. Most people buy them, but I’d guess that a lot of people spend just as much on junk as they do the good stuff, maybe more.

The U.S. government at one point gave a big push to increase consumption of fruits & veg, but even that seems to have died out for the most part. I’m also guessing that a lot of it has to do with branding - the most recognizable brands of fruits & vegetables are things like Chiquita bananas, Florida oranges and Idaho potatoes. Ads for celery, cherries, apples, etc. are pretty rare, and when you see them, they’re usually sponsored by co-ops and the government. It also varies by region - certain areas are more likely to eat more fruits & vegetables than others.

With other products, as stated earlier, many are just interchangeable with others. You don’t often see flour or baking soda advertised because most brand flours are interchangeable with store brands, and there are usually a very limited number of brands available anyway. But there are dozens of brands of pre-packaged meals, sodas, chips, candy, and many of the products are very similar to each other. Off the top of my head I can only name one brand of fruit (Driscoll’s strawberries) and two of flour (MacArthur’s and Betty Crocker), but tons of brands of similar junk foods.

There have been commercials for butter. The tagline was “Give 'em all a little pat of butter!!” after extolling the relative virtues of butter.