Ending Dietainment: Cheerios Ad Campaign

(I apologize. This is a rant that is kind of off-track from the posts you’ve been seeing on this blog, but it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about a lot today!!)

Yesterday night as I was watching T.V. before bed, this commercial came on:

Cheerios and “Dietainment”

Though I immediately connected with the intention of the message, I couldn’t help it. Something within me was triggered. I can’t state enough that I wish mass media would be more vigilant, more socially-aware, more accountable, less aggressive, less racist, less sexist…(and I could go on forever). Nonetheless, I’m not sure it is the most effective use of time, resources, our voices and our efforts to address this at the level of the “media.”

I applaud Cheerios for starting the discussion, and here are a couple of my thoughts to add:

1. Marketing + Prosocial Messages = ?

We’ve all been here before, people. Dove’s campaign for real beauty left us all wondering how genuine a message of change can be when there is a thinly veiled attempt to sell a product. This always makes me go “yikes” a little inside.

2. The reasons I think the “Canadian” media is an ineffective target are that a) the Canadian media is only a sliver of what we consume… our neighbours to the south produce most of the dietainment media we see… and b) if it isn’t dietainment, the “media” will attack and humiliate and marginalize some other group in some other way. I know that’s cynical, but I don’t have a lot of faith in the industry. Weird, right?

3. Perhaps most importantly, we need to educate young people. Not just young girls. Young people. And middle-aged people. And old people. OK… all people.

I don’t know the best way to best educate people to be critical consumers of the media. It’s tricky, but if we bolster the abilities of people to recognize dietainment (thank you Cheerios, for integrating the buzzword), question it, roll it around in our heads rather than passively consume it, maybe we’re better off. Maybe it’s more effective to use a holistic approach to media literacy, rather than a single-pronged petition to the Canadian media about an individual aspect of what “they” are doing terribly wrong. If we educate one another and our young people about questioning and analyzing what we’re seeing, maybe we’ll approach sexual violence in advertising differently, dietainment differently and racist depictions or exclusions differently. The media are giving people messages constantly. Things do need to change, and I’m not sure the system will change anytime soon (again, I’m so cynical!) So maybe in the here-and-now, we can change the conversations we’re having. We can change the way we perceive and consume media. We can support brands that don’t depict and perpetuate violence, racism, hatred or shaming. This whole dialogue makes me think about the conversations people are having about the new sex ed curriculum in Ontario. It’s like there’s this notion that if we hide something hard enough, people won’t be exposed to it and everyone will then be “safer” and better off. But the fact of the matter is that if we equip people to responsibly and respectfully deal with the (let’s face it!) inevitable- whether it’s sexual development or the diet industry- isn’t that when we’re better off? If we give people, from a very early age, the skills to really analyze, consider, question and contemplate their decisions of what media they orient themselves to, and when and with whom they have relationships with…. I seriously think that is when we are all winning.

Bottom line: It’s important to remember that the media is trying to sell you something, so buyer beware.

(I should let you know before I go that I absolutely LOVE multigrain cheerios and it happens to be one of my favourite cereals!)

I’d love to know what others think and I’d love to hear what have you add to the discussion.

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