Special K Thinks We’re All Very Gullible

Cookie Monster Special KOne of the great things about watching all of my TV on Hulu and Netflix is that I don’t see a lot of commercials. For the past couple of days I’ve been dog sitting two super cute pitbulls and so I’ve been watching cable, which means watching a ton of crappy weight loss commercials.  The only thing that’s stopped me from hurling something heavy at the television is that it’s not mine.

The most insidious examples right now seem to come from Special K. They are using a size acceptance message to sell weight loss.  It’s gross.  In some commercials they’ve stolen size acceptance tools like Marilyn Wann’s Yay Scale and Amanda Levitt’s Body Positive Measuring Tapes. Claire Mysko over on The Frisky did a great job of taking this down.

The one I keep seeing is this one:

As a catchy song about having a good day plays in the background, a woman is shopping for jeans and the tags all say words like Confident, Va Va Voom, and Ooh La La.  A voiceover comes on and says

Wouldn’t it nice if we focused less on the number…

Yes, yes.  Ye gods yes! That would be fan-frickin-tastic!

…and more on how the fit makes us feel?

Um, I guess – if you mean finding jeans that fit us – maybe this is going to be a commercial about how jean designers should make rocking styles in more sizes?

Take the special K challenge, drop a jean size in 2 weeks and slip into size sassy.

What the…?  Oh hell no.  You’ve just substituted “Size Sassy” for “Smaller size”.  Who is falling for this?  Replacing numbers with words doesn’t actually change anything, the message is the same:  You will be better when you are thinner.

The website is worse, “It’s not about the number on the tag; it’s about how a pair of jeans can make you feel:  Sassy, confident, even fierce.  Special K has a variety of free plans to help you slip into a size sassy.”

If it wasn’t about the number on the tag then couldn’t ANY size jeans be Size Sassy, including the size I’m wearing right now?  I couldn’t help but notice that they suggest that for EVERY woman Size Sassy is one size smaller. (So for me, sIze 24 would be Size Sassy, but my friend Donna would have to be a size 000.)  Of course, if you become a size smaller and watch their commercial you’ll learn that Size Sassy is – you guessed it – one size smaller.  I think I have a new theme song for Special K (sung to the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie)

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll wear Size Sassy, tomorrow, It’s always a size away!

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s because they can make a lot more money if they can convince every single woman that she needs their weight loss bullshit.

How did this happen? Is it possible that women have been so thoroughly bombarded with messages that we should all hate ourselves and hate our bodies (by advertising from the diet industry including Special K  – I haven’t forgotton their “you can’t pinch an inch” campaign) that it’s not working any more?

It looks like this goes back to the start of the “What will you gain when you lose” campaign Special K developed after a study that they commissioned from Edelman Berland, a markeing and PR “research” firm, that  found that “a positive attitude toward weight management might actually help you succeed.”

Fascinating.  It turns out 9 out of 10 women who report that they think positively about weight management also reported either losing weight or maintaining weight in the past year compared to “only about half” of women with a negative approach.

How is this study highly suspect?  Let me count the ways.  There’s the aforementioned choice of research firms.  Then there’s the methodology – they interviewed “more than 1,000″ women who described themselves as “weight conscious” to find out just what they think about their success or failure. Ok, dude. Self-reported information on dieting by people who describe themselves as weight conscious talking about what they believe led them to succeed or fail at dieting does not a strong study make.  Then there is the fact that they are looking at only a year – we know that most people can lose weight in the short term, but most gain it back within 2-5 years so using a one year period doesn’t really tell us anything about long term weight loss. Also, comparing 9 out of 10 to “about half” seems suspicious. Why not give us the actual number?  If they interpret 7 as about half then this is quite a bit closer than it might sound.

So, says Special K, we should all focus on how the “fit makes us feel”.  Well, that and two special K meals and 2 special K snacks each and every day – if you stay on the diet for a year you can consume 1,460 Special K projects – can’t wait.  They say that the average weight loss is a 4-8 pounds (or roughly the weight you could lose if you loofah’d regularly for two weeks.)   And remember the study they commissioned wasn’t about people who did the Special K diet, just women who describe themselves as “weight conscious.”  As with every diet plan, they have absolutely no proof that this plan will lead to long term weight loss, nor that it will lead to health.  They do seem pretty certain that it will lead to profits.

I’m definitely interested in how the fit of the jeans makes me feel.  And if I don’t like it, I change the jeans – not me.  I have a positive attitude – I’m positive that based on the evidence the vast majority of people who lose weight on this program, or any diet/lifestyle change/etc. will gain it back, and many will gain back more.  I’m positive that was my experience when I dieted (though of course that’s not extrapolatable.)   So I’m positive that I’m never going back to a dieting lifestyle and the willful suspension of disbelief it would require.  I’m positive that I’m a Size Sassy whatever jeans I wear.  And all that without spending a dime on products that market to me based on the idea that I’m too stupid to figure out that the new marketing is the same as the old marketing.

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60 thoughts on “Special K Thinks We’re All Very Gullible

  1. Yuk. Imagine if they were honest in their marketing:

    Eat Special K in a bizarre way that means you’ll feel really hungry AND you won’t be able to socialise normally, in the vague hope that you’ll make the clothes you have fit really badly.

    1. I might even have to skip my biking or my swimming because Special K makes my blood sugar plummet 30 minutes after eating it. Thanks for giving me hope, Special K.

  2. I just saw a Cheerios commercial promoting their Go Girls campaign with a slogan “They don’t have to diet” or some such. It shows girls playing and being active, then the slogan, then the Multi Grain Cheerios box and the Go Girl campaign. I’m not sure about it except that once again processed food is the saviour.

  3. i’ve been eating a version of this special k diet thing for at least a decade, only sans milk. not as a diet, though; instead, this is what someone, somewhere long ago mightve called my ‘maintenance plan.’ thats not what i call it. i think of it, if i think of it, as eating dry & dull food that wont make me hate myself [much] when i am too overburdened by work, life, sorrow, to starve. or, maybe, say, what i do in between having thirty thousand dollars [$30,000] worth of liposuction that did nothing, not for one minute, & long long periods of semi-starvation aka eating maybe 300 kcal a day [the last time i did this the right side of my jaw collapsed. i am still fixing it]*.

    if i can be used as an example, i would say this cereal business wont do anything more for anyone else than it has done for me. meaning: i will bet anyone, oh, say, $30,000 [which i will never see again] that all it is is a gimmick to entice people to buy more special k.

    [i bet they have some idea that their diet wont work better than any other does. i think this whole thing is incredibly cynical.]

    * i am sort of okay now. better anyway. do not worry. all of this is true, there is no question, but i am posting it as an example, only, of what not to do.

    i cannot understand how anyone would think that starvation, real starvation, is worse for one’s health than not precisely meeting the standard set by for-profit insurance companies & media figures [who often starve themselves as they undergo relentless painful plastic procedures to meet that standard].

    yr weary sometime correspondent,

  4. Screw size Sassy… I want to be a size StunningBrilliantGorgeousFabulousAwesomeBadass. Oh, wait… I already am! Whee! 🙂

  5. i’m feeling pretty sassy eating a YUMMY breakfast instead of special k-ardboard cereal.

    it’s amazing how much goodness one’s life acquires if one stops watching commercials altogether. (not saying you should do that, ragen, since somebody needs to write awesome essays about the crappy attitude they push on people so they can exploit them better.)

    this whole idea that i should change my body to fit into a specific piece of clothing is so widespread, but honestly so very ridiculous. it’s ever so much easier to pick a different piece of clothing. i remember when that was a revelation to me. 😉 there is nothing sassy or fierce about letting oneself be manipulated into accepting a commercial message as if it were somehow magical wisdom.

    it ticks me off especially when the manipulation uses things that matter to me, music that makes me feel sentimental, specific phrases that still have value. greedy arseholes. maybe next week i’ll write paper letters to let a whole bunch of companies know exactly why i am boycotting them.

  6. I think my fat ass is pretty damn sassy precisely as it is. It certainly was a couple months ago when I came in second in a dance contest. It was a couple days ago when I was laughing it off with Mr. Twistie and a good friend in a restaurant.

    Okay, it wasn’t very sassy yesterday, but that was because I had one of those colds that feels so miserable you long to deliberately lose a game of Tiddlywinks with Death. I’m feeling better today. By tomorrow I am confident my ass will be sassy again, as it will continue to be whatever size it says on my jeans.

    Oh, and if I’m going to eat cold cereal for breakfast, it’s damn well going to be Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs because they’re delicious and make the milk all chocolatey at the end.

    So there.

  7. Special K has been around since I was a kid, back in the 60s. Only back then, their slogan was “Do the Special K pinch!” where they claimed that, if you could “pinch an inch” of skin around your middle, you should eat their cereal to stop being able to do that.

    Are there any actual, living people who cannot “pinch an inch” of skin somewhere on their bodies? If you can, says the message, there is something wrong with you, so eat our junk cereal! I give you Cynical Marketing Ploys 101 – telling people there is something wrong with them that only your crappy product can fix.

    If it actually did what they claim it does, wouldn’t everyone who ate it be skinny by now? I have seen no evidence of that.

    As for Size Sassy, stop by my desk sometime – I’ll give you your fill of “sassy.” Just sayin’!

    1. Yeah, that batshittery didn’t help my eating disorder at all back in my late teens and early twenties. I could pinch an inch of skin on my forearm, and I didn’t have fat forearms.
      I’m a Size Curmudgeonly.

  8. At first I thought you were going to talk about the horrible weight watchers commercial where ‘we’ll stop worrying about our weight and be SO surprised when it still comes off and maybe it’ll be okay to eat one cupcake and enjoy it’. Every time I accidentally see it I want to punch someone.

    For some reason I haven’t seen the special k commercials, thank goodness.

    A friend of mine is currently living in Norway, and she says the commercials are great, because they just tell you what the product is for, not promises that it will make you and your life magically better.

  9. Even the positive messages from your clothing tags is something they’ve stolen…I’m not sure what brand it is, but it’s one that Maurice’s sells, that includes tags like that. (or so I understand, I have not actually bought there myself). As a consumer, I’m just as offended that they can’t come up with something original as I am that they are trying to sell me self-loathing (though the fact that they are perverting self-love strategies into self hate, really punches up the number on my hate-o-meter more than anything).

      1. Just so you know Maurice is owned by the company who owns Lane Bryant, Catherines, and Fashion Bug which now is Maurce. The company is Charming Shoppes and while they aren’t perfect, they have been one of the few companies providing plus size clothing.

        I agree it’s wrong to co-opt fat acceptance for cash and marketing, but I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by criticizing a store from a company that provides a desperately needed service to fat people.

        1. I think Duckie’s point was the clothing tags in the Special K commercial are a ripoff of the Maurice’s tags, not criticizing Maurice’s.

  10. Other then the fact I hate the ad. My parents on the other hand think it is is the best thing since sliced bread.

    You made my day with the loofah comment. I loofah everyday.

  11. Ugh, I’ve been seeing way too many of their “size sassy” ads online; sounds like the TV version is even worse. (These days I watch the few shows that appeal to me online.) The first time I saw this campaign, I thought “Whatever, Special K. Size has nothing to do with sassy!”.

    Their product doesn’t even make a decent meal. I don’t know about any of you, but I get a major crash shortly after breakfast if I eat Special K or similar cereals. I need something that keeps me full.

    1. Same here.Anytime I have a breakfast of mostly starches without a decent balance of protein, I’m having a hypoglycemic attack by noon. Thanks hypothyroidism!

  12. Ugh this sucks because I love their breakfast sandwiches. Of course, while I’d love to boycott every food that does this kind of crap, particularly given my health limitations, I’d be left with little to eat.

    My current box of Multigrain Cheerios looks not unlike this one, with its seemingly innocuous message about “managing” your weight.

    It irritates me to no end that we’re not “allowed” to just enjoy what we put in our mouths without it being picked apart and labelled in moralistic ways. I don’t even so much mind them touting health benefits – ACTUAL health benefits. Like saying a diet in whole grains is shown to help lower risks associated with heart disease.

    It’s the “eat this and maybe be skinnier” crap I could seriously do without.

  13. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    I’ve discussed before how Special K (I’m pretty sure the K stands for Krappy) ads make me all stabby, but I’m always fine to do so again.
    Their cereal has lousy nutritional value. I could eat the box it came in and get similar nutrition, and a similar taste.
    I think the stupidest of their ads is for the so called Chocolate Delight cereal, which makes freaking Cocoa Krispies taste like dark chocolate mousse.
    Here’s a weight-obsessed woman who for reasons unknown decides to make a cake. She’s about to (Jenny Craig forbid!) lick the bowl. Instead, she decides to have Chocolate Delight cereal, which, lo and behold, solves her craving for evil, evil chocolate.
    Why the fresh hell would you make a freaking cake in the first place if you aren’t going to enjoy the damn thing?
    I refuse to purchase any product made by Kellogg’s at this point.

    1. I get a similar feeling when I stroll to the Dairy case and see row upon row of yogurts with flavors like “Strawberry Shortcake,” “Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake,” and so on.

      The whole idea is that if you’re a woman, you’d better eat this dinky, overpriced faux-dessert because a real hunk of cake is obviously out of the question for an ugly, unworthy beast such as yourself. Eat the thing that strives to both yogurt and cake, then feel crummy because it fails miserably at being either one– So you won’t be pleased or satisfied on any level whatsoever. But they’ll have your money and you’ll have your martyrdom and THAT’S what matters most. [fume]

      Fuck you, Marketers. If I’m hungry for a bowl of yogurt (flavored with stuff I have at home because you morons don’t understand how flavor works) I’ll have one. If I want a wedge of cake, I’ll have that. Take your gross, unneeded hybridized consolation prizes and stick ’em.

      1. I don’t understand how they can call that stuff yogurt. Hell, Yoplait’s got so many thickeners it’s barely cultured. Their regular Greek yogurt is closer to real yogurt, though I’m not sure it’s proper strained Greek-style yogurt. (You pretty much have to go to Fage for a mainstream brand for that, or to a Greek or Mediterranean market.)

        Argh, now I want yogurt. Curse you, migraines, and your delicious triggers! You will not defeat meeeeee!

        1. Sorry about the migraines. DX (We could swap bodies for a week, but then you’d be stuck with my bum ankle and some other stupid stuff, all for the sake of yogurt.)

          Would you believe that one of my horrid temp jobs (amongst thousands) included being a “yogurt squeezer”? I wish I were joking. These tiny foil-wrapped containers came down a line and I squeezed them to make sure the seals wouldn’t give way. It wasn’t even real yogurt, either. It was the kind made from coconut milk. Maybe it was good, maybe not. I was too sick of looking at it after an 8+ hour day to try and find out. :/

          1. ::insert psychotic giggle:: I could deal with a bum ankle for yogurt. Migraines. Yeah, that’s all you’d be getting. Migraines. Suitcase full of medication? What suitcase full of medication? Oh, that? That’s just the stuff for daily maintenance….

            That sounds like an awesome job for five minutes. After that, I’d start squeezing too hard for the fun of it, and back to the temp agency I’d go. As for coconut milk yogurt, well, I adore coconut milk, and I adore yogurt. So I tried coconut milk yogurt.


            And that’s from someone who’s not supposed to go near cow’s milk. (But I do anyway.)

            1. A whole suitcase, huh? I’ll do some extra yoga stretches before the exchange.

              When I worked that job, at least two people quietly walked off during the first break of the day and never came back. They had sense. :p

      2. ms_zeno you said it well! I also get stabby when someone posts recipes using low fat foods–like guacamole made out of peas or broccoli. Lordy an avocado isn’t going to kill you! And there’s no way black beans will ever make a chocolate mousse…

        Eat the real thing. Life’s to short for settling for anything less…

        1. susie, those recipes sound… infinitely more terrifying than the “lite” pesto thing I saw the other day. It featured parsley and breadcrumbs in lieu of basil and walnuts. [sigh]

          The trainwreck lover in me is almost tempted to look around for that “guacamo-pea” abomination just so I can experience it and report back. o_0

          1. I’ve had it. It tastes good! But it tastes good because to me peas taste good! It doesn’t taste good because the Peas are Faux Avocados and magically delicious because they aren’t as “fattening” and therefore better than those pesky avocados. Peas are peas and avocados are avocados. Both yummy, but they don’t taste the same, whole or all mashed up.

            1. Me too! Pea dip with baby peas and mint (or cilantro but I prefer mint), and oh my it is delicious. It is not guacamole, it is just itself. Also I love coconut milk yoghurt, but it’s very expensive so I rarely eat it.

              1. I understand peas with butter and hyssop are delicious. Alas, I have no access to fresh hyssop. (However, I know where to get soap make with it, at least until this year’s batch runs out. OMG, I love it so much.)

                1. Alright… you’ve all talked me into adding that link to my “to-do” list. After all, I do love homemade pea soup, and fresh peas right out of the shell are great, too. I will retain an open mind…

          2. Wait – LOW FAT PESTO? I work in the food industry writing, photographing and selling REAL food and this is even a new one on me. I continue to be embarrassed by my marketing profession. Honestly, just eat real food. Oh, how I loathe those Special K commercials too. I have to mute the TV or leave the room I get so riled!

            1. Sad, isn’t it? Maybe it started out as a special recipe for those unfortunates with nut allergies, and then the pitch(wo)men couldn’t leave well enough alone… :/

              1. So she not only drives in the knife, she twists it, too???

                Now I’m determined to make a nut-free pesto with flavor. Hmm. Sesame seeds are too strong. Sunflower seeds might be a reasonable substitute for walnuts, though they’re fatty enough I’d reduce the quantity and toast them lightly. I have no idea where the parsley came from. Yes, there’s such thing as a parsley pesto, and I’ve used it to tone down basil that’s too bitter. However, I’d rather go whole hog with a sweet, curly leaf basil. Now, if someone’s allergic to cheese, it can be replaced with toasted, salty breadcrumbs, but otherwise, continue as with a traditional pesto.

                1. D’oh! Sorry.

                  I think I’m one of those “lucky” people whose “bitter” receptors are dialed way down. I can suck down black coffee so strong that it dissolves metal, and I never seem to notice when pesto’s bitter. My partner in crime throws whatever we still have growing out there into the blender and I’m mega happy. I have noticed that Sweet Basil doesn’t taste sweet to me at all, though. It tastes “smoky” instead.

                  1. Hmm. Now I need to go outside and pick some curly basil to see if it’s smoky. I’ve got a good palate and nose (despite allergies), and have to try EVERYTHING that I know in advance won’t make me sick (and some things that I know will). I wonder how a little would be on top of the vegetable chowder I made the other day?

  14. The funny thing about Kellog’s is, from the very beginning their food has been about restraint. Now it is about dietary restraint in regard to weight loss, and the motivation is clearly profit. Initially it was about sexual restraint in regard to masturbation and the motivation was moral panic. At some point in the 1800s (can’t remember the exact dates), pastors and medical doctors were very concerned about the supposed ill effects of masturbating. They believed that eating bland, boring food would quell sexual appetite, which hot, spicy food supposedly triggered. Graham crackers were invented for the same reason (initially graham crackers weren’t sugared up like they are now, but were quite flavourless). So there you go. The reason Kellog’s tastes like styrofoam and doesn’t fill you up is because initially it was designed to keep your hand out of your pants and now it’s to keep real food out of your bellies.

  15. Because it’s totally healthy to drop 40 pounds in 2 weeks, right? I mean, that’s how much I’d have to lose to drop 1 pant size. Yep. I will have to say there is truth in advertising. It WOULD be a challenge for me – just not a healthy one so I’ll pass.

    I’m glad I don’t have cable. Life has a lot less feelings of stabby-ness without it.

  16. Somehow, it seems that not only do we all need to lose a size, but that we all want to be “sassy” – I don’t even know what that means. But it would seem that, as a woman, that is what I am supposed to want to be. I am not sassy. I don’t want to “feel” sassy. And I don’t want my feelings to be driven by the products I buy. The marketing has layers.

  17. Awww, pibbles! 🙂 Give them tummy rubs for me, Ragen? I’ve got a soft spot for the breed.

    Ugh, Special K. Their entire product line annoys the hell out of me. I don’t even give a damn about their cutesy renamed sizes. I’m not Size Badass. I’m just badass. And metal. And punk. And a whole lot of other things that haven’t a whit to do with my size.

  18. Yikes! According to Special K, Size Sassy for me would be a child’s/girl’s Size 12. Wouldn’t be able to wear clothes in adult sizes. They’d be too big. Good Grief! And here I was happy with the numbers currently on my clothes! Silly me. I was happy with the numbers on my clothes when I was OMG!FAT! too, how positively of me, daring to be happy while OMG!FAT!

    I remember those stupid Pinch An Inch ads from decades ago. Even I can pinch a freaking inch, and I’m frakking TINY. Could “Pinch An Inch” then too when I was all of 10 or 11 and weighed all of about 65-70 pounds.

      1. I remember the pediatrician beng worried when I was 11 because I only weighed 67 pounds which he told my parents was a bit low for my then height, which was short then as it is now.

  19. How postively dreadful of me to have been happy when I was OMG!FAT! Appraently I should have curled up and died instead.

  20. I refuse to feel Guilt about any food that I eat. The day that a food can have me arrested by the cops,put in handcuffs, hauled down to the hoosegow, brought up on charges, made to appear in court in handcuffs, ankle, and belly chains to answer those charges, then be tried and convicted of those charges, and sent to the State Pen for the rest of my lie without parole is the day that MAYBE I will start letting food make me feel Guilty! MAYBE. Since food can do none of that, I will carry on not feeling guilty about eating it.

    1. It certainly doesn’t help that they’re all sung off key. I don’t have cable service any more, but when I did and those would come on, I’d always want to stuff couch cushions in my ears.

  21. I saw a commercial the other day advertising a piece of exercise equipment. The women on there were gushing about how losing 5, 10, or 15 pounds just changed their lives. I told my 16 year old son, “Those women are so excited about losing 10 pounds, but being the size I am, 10 pounds is nothing. You can’t even tell when I lose 10 pounds.” I’ve actually lost 50 pounds in the last year and a half, not because I was trying, but because I’ve been ill and very stressed. My wonderful and loving 16 year old son looked at me and said, “I can tell just by looking at you that you’ve lost weight, but Mom, you look great no matter what.” Did I raise a great kid, or what?

    1. Yes, you did. He’s going to make someone an incredible partner one of these days. That’s something to be seriously proud of. ♥

  22. Ragen-
    Had to say thanks for your mosh up on Cookie Monster in this topic.

    Years ago playing a game at a party, I announced zie was my all time celebrity crush. Wouldn’t an evening with Cookie Monster be the best date ever? All that enthusiasm, and cookies, too!

    As for Special K, I concur with the consensus on team Kellogg.
    “chew, chew, chew; it IS the thing to do…” Argh. They made it look sort of fun in The Road to Wellville…….

  23. A date with Cookie Monster would be fun if we ate Cookies. Yes, C is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough For Me! Cookie, Cookie, Cookie Starts with C! None of this revisionist Cookies Are A Sometimes Food, eat lots and lots of Veggies instead crap. Even when I was 4 I knew Cookies were a Sometimes Foodfor anyone who was NOT Cookie Monster. I didn’t need Children’s Television Workshop to make Cookie Monster beat me over the head with it.

    1. Yeah, I guess I should preface my celebrity date with ORIGINAL Cookie Monster. Though eating veggies with hir would still be fun too!……we just won’t tell anybody. Sigh.

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