All natural Cheetos

Sometimes, the most mundane practices can give us insight into our deepest beliefs. Such is the case with marketing of products. For example, the current obsession with “green” products may or may not improve the environment, but it does tell us what ideas have captured the attention of the American public.

Marketing involves various tactics. The best tactic is to market based on the true virtues of the product. So, for example, if a laundry detergent is the best at removing grass stains, you can market it as “best at removing grass stains” and that will attract certain buyers.

Of course, not every product has virtues that are worth marketing. So often times marketers resort to other strategies, appealing to instincts and preconceived ideas of potential buyers. Take Cheetos for example. There is absolutely nothing nutritionally redeeming about Cheetos. No one is going to be able to market them as “good for you”. So the marketers did the next best thing. Appealing to an inate belief among buyers that “natural” is better, they’ve now brought out a product called “All Natural Cheetos”. Cheetos are just as bad for you as they ever were, but the marketers have blunted this perception by appealing to unconscious beliefs about natural products.

How did the marketers of All Natural Cheetos hit upon this strategy? In Packaging as a Vehicle for Mythologizing the Brand in the journal Consumption, Markets and Culture, Knaizeva and Belk identify “Myths of the World in the Past” that influence the “stories” found on packaging.

Packaging narratives depict the modern world as a deeply distorted reflection of what it originally was – the garden before agro-chemical technology. While the values of the past include family, tradition, authenticity, peace, and simplicity, the current era is associated with broken family ties that need to be restored, scientific “advances” that pose threats, constant pressure on the well-being of humans, and unnecessary complexity in everyday life.

The authors pay particular attention to the concept of “naturalness”:

Naturalness appears as a rich emotional construct that connects with positive contemporary images of nature… People do not want to remember that nature can also be destructive as in deadly hurricanes and poisonous mushrooms … In a natural health context, Thompson also finds nature to be a positively framed powerful mythic construction; and his informants attribute magical, regenerative powers to nature. They firmly believe that aligning with what nature has to offer for one’s health lets them assert control over their lives and bodies versus losing control by being complicit in a scientized medical system.

We can see here the spiritual treatment of nature that … pervades alternative medicine, vegetarianism, voluntary simplicity philosophies, the natural childbirth movement, and dietary beliefs linking food to health with a resulting reverence for magical, harmonious, whole, natural foods free of herbicides, pesticides, and genetic modification. These beliefs are in turn linked to puritanical American beliefs that we must take responsibility for our bodies, work hard to perfect our health, cleanse our environment and system of pollutants, and choose the foods that will make us healthy…

Ultimately, these myths are joined in service of the over-arching myth, that of the “enobled and empowered”


… [A]ll the significance attached by storytellers to the products transforms otherwise powerless consumers into the powerful marketplace players. As a result, newly empowered consumers can temporarily escape imposed world conditions by shaping their personal myths and servicing their individual lives. Thus, myths of the past are meaningfully used to serve the present.

Marketers exploit these myths precisely because they have so much resonance for consumers. It is these same myths that undergird contemporary health fads such as “alternative” medicine, “natural” childbirth, and fears of an obesity epidemic.

 the myth of idealized nature
the myth of the idealized past
the myth that are health choices will necessarily make us healthy
the myth that making the prescribed choices empowers people

Unfortunately, those myths are nothing more than wishful thinking. There is no such thing as “alternative” health, “natural” childbirth bears no resemblance to childbirth in nature, and healthy choices like eating and exercising to be thin do not necessarily make us healthy.

Whether we choose to respond to these marketing ploys is far less important than examining the assumptions that underlie them. Sometimes our most accepted beliefs, the ones we take for granted, have no basis in fact.