Search
  • David Bernhart


  • David Bernhart

Hot on the heels of bacon-powered insurance comes -- not to be melodramatic, but let's call it what it is -- a nail in the coffin of my childhood.



The 1973 science-fiction thriller "Soylent Green" depicts a future of overpopulation, social disorder and food shortages. A police detective (Charlton Heston) discovers human remains are the key ingredient in the primary source of nutrition to the citizenry, a green wafer manufactured by the Soylent Corporation. The film concludes with Heston howling as only he can to anyone who will listen, "Soylent Green is people!" That line quickly became a catchphrase. I used it, my friends used it and, as teenagers, we would have jeered at the notion that one day an actual food product would employ the word "Soylent" in its name.


But time passes.


Without a trace of irony in its web and advertising presence, a company called Rosa Foods has introduced Soylent, a line of meal replacement shakes and other concoctions. Soylent is a plant-based substance containing soy protein isolate, corn syrup, canola oil and oat flour, among a long list of ingredients. Though the creator of Soylent states that he purposely named the shakes after the movie, no entrepreneur would have made such a decision until "Soylent Green" and its catchphrase had ceased to be familiar to 18-to-34-year-old males, the target market for energy drinks in general and this line specifically.


Despite its makers' strategy, Soylent has struggled in the marketplace. The original bland, chalky shake tasted no better than it sounds and resulted in complaints of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. An "improved" shake is now available in vanilla, strawberry, cafe mocha and cacao, as well as the much-loved original flavor. The improvement, however, hasn't persuaded Canada's Food Inspection Agency to lift its ban on Soylent, which remains unobtainable north of the border.



I don't know, perhaps the path to popularity for Soylent lies in embracing the Charlton Heston association instead of shying away from it. I can hear the advertising slogans:


"Let my people go ... and buy Soylent."


"When the Romans were marching me to the galleys, thirst had nearly killed me. A man gave me Soylent to drink and I went on living."


"I'll give you my Soylent when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."


"You banned Soylent! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"


Okay, maybe not that one.

  • David Bernhart


I have a love/hate relationship with advertising. I value the information and entertainment that the traditional advertising-based revenue model continues to make available at reduced or no cost. At the same time, I try hard to ignore ads, especially radio and television commercials.

But once in a while, something gets my attention despite my best efforts. An example at the moment involves, of all things, bacon.

Besides the crusade in recent years by pork producers to rebrand bacon as not nearly as detrimental to health as the science indicates, there are marketing campaigns as we speak for multiple products completely unrelated to bacon that nevertheless employ bacon references. Here's a commercial for Hulu, the streaming service:



The insurance firm Wawanesa has a radio ad airing currently that also begins by mentioning bacon, then gets down to the real business of the message. It would have been fascinating to sit in on the strategy sessions in which Hulu and Wawanesa decided that images of bacon would give audiences a warm, fuzzy feeling and have them opening their wallets before the sales pitch even began.

Of course, it isn't as though I just discovered an approach to advertising never used before. This technique is called “association” or “transfer” and involves transferring positive associations about one product to the product being marketed. The technique also has a lengthy history of utilization in politics. I'm reminded of then-councilman Eric Garcetti's 2013 campaign for mayor of Los Angeles. Garcetti delivered a double dose of association in radio commercials about riding as a boy with his family in their wood-paneled station wagon to Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour. All baby boomers remember the Ford Country Squire and Farrell's is a name guaranteed to induce soft-focus nostalgia in anyone who grew up in L.A. in the 1960s or '70s. And it worked; Garcetti won.

On a more sobering note, I see that Farrell's, which once boasted 50 locations on the West Coast and more than a hundred nationwide, now has exactly one restaurant left to its name, in the Orange County city of Brea.

If only they'd mentioned bacon in their ads ...