SnackWell's ups fat, but ads are tasteless

By Published on .

Advertiser: Nabisco Biscuit Co.
Agency: Foote, Cone & Belding, New York
Ad Review rating: One star

Women of America, feel better about yourselves: Pig out on crap!

That's the novel premise of the advertising relaunching SnackWell's brand cookies and crackers, a once phenomenal line of ultralow-fat snacks now restaged by Nabisco as a line of marginally low-fat snacks.

"Live well, snack well" is the tagline, and it would be a very good one if the selling proposition, and the marketing strategy behind it, weren't so utterly preposterous.

Screen 1 from the spot

Screen 2 from the spot

Screen 3 from the spot

Screen 4 from the spot

"At SnackWell's," says one of the new spots from Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, "we like to think that snacking shouldn't just be about feeding yourself, but in some small way about feeding your self-esteem."

Feeling a bit down on yourself? Have a cookie. Career stagnating and love life not working out? Have 28 cookies. Suicidal depression? Get the caramel-filled one, melt it in a spoon and inject it directly into your vein. It's like chicken soup for the soul.

Or so Nabisco would have us believe. Except that eating to feel better is not a character builder. It is a symptom.

And the very idea of repositioning SnackWell's as, basically, ProzacWell's is a symptom of a very sick brand.

Only a few years ago, SnackWell's snacks mightily prospered, based on remarkable flavor and texture and little or no fat. Not that they were all that wonderful, but they were surprisingly palatable--enough that they became a sensation. Huge demand. Insufficient supply. Phenomenal word-of-mouth. And, very quickly, a half-billion dollars in sales, not because consumers said, "Yum! Delicious!" but, rather, "Hey, these don't suck!"

Then three things happened:

1) The novelty wore off. Once the supply met the demand, the demand got less demanding.

2) Other marketers came up with other reduced-fat products that tasted even more like the real deal than SnackWell's did. Being a pioneer is all well and good, but it doesn't confer perpetual benefits. Ask Daniel Boone, who is dead.

3) Exhausted and undersatisfied by their fling with fat hypervigilance, consumers began to lose their zeal for low-fat products in general. Many lines, such as Taco Bell's Border Lights, have been discontinued altogether.

All of these developments presaged a dim future for SnackWell's, unless the brand could figure out a way to taste a whole lot better.

So the food-technology wizards at Nabisco went to work and found a miracle additive to give the products a better flavor. It's called "fat."

And you can practically see it there, in this chicken soup for the soul, floating on top in disgusting, oily globs. Higher in fat, still compromised in flavor. It's simply unbelievable.

Unbelievable not because the advertising premise is so ridiculous and cruel. After all, it's not hard to find marketers who give profoundly bad dietary and life advice to consumers. (Nabisco itself is still telling people to "Go nuts" on ultrahigh-fat mixed nuts.) But it's hard to think of another example of a product whose only raison d'etre--in this case, guilt-free snacking--is so neutralized by the addition of the very ingredient it's designed to exclude. Whatever might be next?

Rayovac rechargeable batteries. Now they're disposable!

Claritin????. New drowsiness formula!

Miller Lite Plus. All the calories you want in a light beer, and more!

Poor Nabisco. In very short order, it's going to need a very big boost in self-esteem. Luckily, there'll be a big supply of SnackWell's to make them feel better.

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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