Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Was Good Today, I Deserve it

Recently, there has been a bit of a stir regarding a Yoplait Yogurt ad. The commercial features a lady (Emily Tarver) opening an office refrigerator and seeing a raspberry cheesecake. She is instantly struck with a desire for the cake and begins to mentally negotiate with herself to create conditions by which she will feel justified in eating it.

A co-worker arrives and grabs a Yoplait Yogurt "Cheesecake" container, expressing great desire for the yogurt. The first lady notices that her co-worker had "lost weight" so immediately decides to have a yogurt herself instead of the actual cheesecake. She is later shown to be enjoying her selection.

That sounds rather harmless. However, the National Eating Disorder Association protested the ad, claiming that it encourages a behavioral pattern utilized by women suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia. The extended mental negotiation portrayed in the ad is symptomatic of someone suffering from negative body image, at the least. Therefore, this ad is transmitting a meme to women who are either suffering from such a disorder or who may be susceptible to such disorders, encouraging them to use Yoplait yogurt as a way to placate the impulse towards mental bargaining.

In short, this ad posits an unhealthy mental disposition as a typical state. Given such a state, this ad suggests its product as way to appease the disorder. That's problematic.

Let me be clear on this. It's perfectly reasonable to look at a yummy sweet and think "I want, but it's bad." The problem lies in the obsessive mental negotiations that follow. Desire and denial are normal parts of life, but, when they become obsessive or unbalanced, problems arise. So, look at the ad yourself and consider if it is depicting a healthy state of mind. Here's the vid:

I don't think it is. I think it is predicating such a disorder and marketing the product as an appeasing substitute for the thwarted desire. However, I don't think Yoplait is acting in bad faith. It's a sorry fact, but eating disorders are rampant in the US. The marketing is accurately targeting the audience, which happens to be suffering from widespread eating disorders.

The sin of this ad is that it honestly recognizes the sorry state of its target audience's mental health. Pulling it will not fix the underlying problem. Pulling it is worthwhile only in that it might keep a toxic meme from spreading even further. But the reality is that eating disorders are so pervasive that the attitude of this ad is a given.

Somewhat off topic, I really enjoyed Emily Tarver's performance in the ad. She often gets cast as an object of ridicule, but she's a cutie. So, I guess that makes it alright. Here are a few more commercials featuring her:

Here's the link to the National Eating Disorders Association's Wikipedia page and official website.

And here's Emily Tarver's website.



  1. There seems to be a trend these days where narrow-issue advocacy groups seize on a piece of popular culture in order to gain credibility. The formula is simple - pick a large target, make a headline-friendly squawk and wait for the media to pick it up.

    As Jon Stewart says, the mainstream media is lazy and loves conflict. "Eating Disorders Group Targets Yoplait" is a great headline, as is "Catholics Protest ]The Golden Compass or "Special Needs Group Decries Tropic Thunder.

    In many cases these "groups" are one or two advocates sitting behind a computer somewhere. It wouldn't surprise me if that were the case with "The Eating Disorders Association."

  2. For certain, advocacy groups want to do anything that generates "free media". A day of rotation through the media cycle is of equivalent value to a multi-million media ad campaign. For a volunteer-based organization, the incentive to "headline grab" is HUGE.

    That being said, the basic premise to NEDA's complaint is sound. The Yoplait ad emulates the unhealthy obsessing of a person suffering from an eating disorder. I can see why they would find it offensive.

  3. If you want to, you can spend your whole day being offended by something or other. Yoplait isn't saying "stop eating altogether" they are suggesting that a person substitute a relatively healthy, low-calorie snack for something ostentatiously the opposite.