Fatty Special K

Did that sound right in a sentence? The words “fat” and “Special K” together?

It didn’t to me, simply because Special K has been touted for years as the go-to cereal healthy people should eat to stay slim and fabulous.

So what exactly is Special K trying to say in this ad?

special-k-fat-ad

Recently I saw this ad by Special K:

So what’s the message? Women shouldn’t comment on how fat they feel, right? Allowing those sorts of comments are awful because they’re the equivalent of self-bullying and self-harm, even.

As happy as these women felt at the end though, there was no real impact at the end of the ad for me. To be sure, Special K seems to be aiming for some sort of “you go, girl” vibe, especially as they’re heading up their campaign with Tyra Banks. Yet there was no “man, that was a good message” response like the one I had when I first saw Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches ad earlier this year:

So what’s the problem? Some critics have raised the concern that this cut-the-fat-talk is rather ironic coming from the company that touts the same challenge year after year. Browsing on their website will reveal that they’re really pushing for a healthy lifestyle and a healthier you. Following their plan means that you’ll be encouraged to keep track of your weight and what you eat as well as how you feel; Special K tries to keep an eye on your mental and emotional health as well as your physical health. In this sense then there doesn’t seem to be a problem; Special K’s current message of “Shhhhut Down the Fat Talk” seems consistent because they’re trying to encourage positivity instead of the negativity that comes with fat talk.

special-k-challenge

However, Special K’s messages come with certain implications. On their website we see pictures of (supposedly) healthy people. How do we know they’re healthy? Well, they’re smiling and they’re thin. That’s not to say that all healthy people are thin like them, but Special K’s representations certainly make it seem like that. So even though Special K promotes a healthy lifestyle, the implication is that a healthy lifestyle includes a thin body. I agree that a healthy lifestyle is important but I disagree that healthy bodies are always thin bodies. By telling consumers to cut the fat talk, Special K attempts to stop being so negative about yourself, yet on the other hand Special K tells us that the “best you” just isn’t the “you” right now. “Think good about yourself, honey, although you could be better.” Is there a disconnect between these messages? To some extent, yes.

The other major reason that Special K just isn’t having the same impact as other campaigns is because it feels really fake, through and through. For starters, building a fake boutique laced with fat comments to shock and then provoke some awkward responses doesn’t exactly set the tone for some open conversation about our body image. If someone were to invite me into a store and shove a camera in my face as I looked at tags that read “Cellulite is in my DNA” I’d just think, “Huh, okay. I guess whoever wrote these had a really bad day,” not “We need to support each other on TV!” and then hug another stranger. The experiment tries and fails to make a point because the “positive thoughts” aren’t naturally reached by the ladies but something injected by Special K partway through the ad. Conversely, Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches ad was done much more naturally, with the results of the two sketches leading women to what seemed to be a more “natural” conclusion.

Now to be sure, Dove Real Beauty Sketches has its fair share of shortcomings. The fact remains though that Special K’s “feel-good” commercial just doesn’t have the same oomph as Dove. The whole set-up, injection of positivity, and jolly ending feels falsified all around and the messages between the two ads aren’t entirely consistent. Telling someone to just stop trash-talking about themselves isn’t going to improve their own mental process unless you give them a reason to start thinking the other way.

What do you think? Think Special K’s actually got something going on? Or is there something else that bugs you about the ad?

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