Monday, May 15, 2006

Fast Food Advertising Becomes Coactive

What does a public service announcement have in common with a McDonald's ad? Usually not much. McDonald's is usually trying to entice you into a hamburger, where a PSA is usually trying to scare you away from some behavior.

And if (like me) you believe that motivation is best explained with separate appetitive and aversive systems, then appealing and scaring are different things.

Enter the bird flu. Now people are scared of chicken. Ad Age this week is has a cover story announcing, "McD's, Subway attack avian-flu panic head-on." Thus the McChicken has become coactive: appetitive and aversive. You love the crispy crunch, but you're not so hip on the pandemic.

After slamming Yum! brands the other day, I was sitting at the table eating KFC with my kids. On the side of the box, I noticed a "Food Safety Assurance." Since I am not quite yet paranoid of the bird flu, it took me a few minutes to figure out exactly why I was being assured.

It seems that retail poultry is a $50 billion industry (thanks Ad Age). And they're worried about their money. And they're worried about the hype.

"It's really an educational message trying to cut through the sensational messages like the TV movie coming out," National Chicken Council adman David Cyphers told Ad Age. "Even the government trying to do things with preparations ... does tend to scare people."

Thus we are reduced to the "other white meat" with poultry tainted and beef gone mad. As an emotion theorist, it will be interesting to watch these campaigns develop -- especially once the first case of bird flu is reported in North America.

Our major fast food giants may be reduced to a public relations type campaign reminiscent of Tylenol in the mid 1980s.


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