JeeIn Oh

Professor PS

May 15, 2013

Advertising and Society

Less Inch for Whom?

             As one of the most famous products of Kellogg, Special K product line contains cereal, snack bar, chips, and cracker that are designed to help reducing weight while still enjoying food. With the guidance for losing an inch or more in two weeks, Special K attempts to change the way consumers think about losing weight from painful experience to enjoyable and achievable goal through the 2012 “Defined by a Number” campaign, combined with the National Weigh-In Day Event and the Gains Project. Although the campaign seems to change consumers’ motivation in positive way, it is actually turning consumers’ attention from the very fundamental and unchanged ideology: you need to lose weight to be happy and successful.

The warm female voice in the commercial seems to sympathize with women’s exhaustiveness of losing weight. Yes, most females are always conscious about their weight, and fat-talk never ends. Although the primary message of the Special K commercial emphasizes the importance of a self and asks consumers not to be defined by a number, the commercial is actually forcing women to keep being uptight about their body shapes as reinforcing the stereotype at the same time: women have to be in shape. The “Defined by a number,” campaign is a brilliant advertising that successfully re-implanted the stereotype while consumers being unaware of. It could have failed if the campaign’s title was “Good Body, Happy Life,” although it is the very fundamental message that everyone is aware of and cries out for decades.

The campaign prioritizes the value of consumers’ self-identities, implying that the number on the scale should not be the one that forces them to lose weight, but the words such as “pride, confidence, or self-esteem” should be the ones that inspire them to pursue good body shape and ultimately, their happiness. However, the stereotype hidden under the touchy campaign can be discovered in “the study of how attitudes toward weight management impact on success,” promoted on the Special K’s official website (See the Figure 1). If the logic of wording is flipped, what the study indicates is “women who are happy with their body are more likely to be positive thinkers”.

Figure 1: Study Report

Figure 1

Figure 1

With the satisfaction of own body being associated with success in life by the study, the campaign is somewhat paradoxical; it implies that consumers will never succeed if they stay with their bodies while, at the same time, it emphasizes that the self-identity is the most important thing that it should not be measured by numbers. It is crucial to understand why female body became such significant object that determines lives of women in this modern society.

During the transition from traditional to industrial period, urbanization and mobility removed the traditional way of classifying social group so that people began to construct their identities through consumption choice. The idea of possessing a product that contains elite or high-class image would put consumers on the desirable social status as what Leiss called, “therapeutic ethos,” aroused as a cultural responses to the “erosion of social group,” (Leiss, et al., 74). Due to the increased desire to ascend one’s social level, “selling one-self,” became a “lifetime task” (Leiss, et al., 74). The desire for the better features and more possessions boosted the trend of making themselves look good to others, and the products that have “therapeutic,” impact began to dominate the market (Leiss, et al., 74); now that the better look of me is for others, not for myself. According to Bordo, the “contemporary women,” is required to have “control over others than the self,” which indicates that female body is so critical object to judge others (Bordo, 105). In addition, the “displacement of female by a male figure,” in a certain way implants the ideology that female’s weak appearance calls for men’s protection, and that is considered as “natural inclination,” and femininity (Bordo, 108).

Figure 2: Show Off Your Confidence

Show Off Your Confidence

Show Off Your Confidence

Special K introduces its product as a “therapeutic ethos,” that fulfills women’s desire (Leiss, et al., 74). Presenting its product in that way can be possible because female bodies are perceived as the most important display that puts them on the certain social status along with their possessions in these days; Kellogg is simply using it. Because of the fire of “selling one-self,” Special K resorts to turning its product into another form of “conspicuous consumption,” that Veblen discusses in his articles, “Conspicuous Leisure” and “Conspicuous Consumption”. Veblen argues that the ability to have leisure time and refined habits requires good amount of time and money, so that displaying his or her affordability is an “evidence,” of wealth in consumer society (Veblen, 34). Along with the physical possessions, female body became another form of the “evidence,” since having good body refers to the affordability of time and money to take care of their beauty (Veblen, 34). Thus, consuming Special K products indicates financially comfortable state enough to care about features other than just living: a mark of wealth.

Back to the campaign analysis the commercial, “Defined by a Number” has a significant role on inviting consumers to associate themselves with the positive images that the commercial gives out. As Goldman and Papson discuss that “ads’ story includes success, desire, happiness, and social fulfillment, and they always, appellate us, name us, and invite us to take up the position in relation to the advertisement,” Special K commercial drives consumers to view themselves in the ad as if defining by numbers is so painful so that it is right to push themselves with more credible and self-caring motifs (Goldman, Papson, 82). The real power of interpellation lies under the fact that it makes consumers take the ad’s message as their “own [already] ideological assumptions and personalities,” thus, the message is deeply embedded in consumers (Goldman, Papson, 82).


The commercial features from infant to mid-aged women, targeting wide span of female consumers and letting them share the weight anxiety through the entire life. From the early age, women get measured and defined by numbers on the scale. It makes them nervous all the time, but the smile on their face remarks confidence and happiness when they fit in pretty dress. In other words, the commercial is embedding the stereotype that only slim women are happy and confident, and not-slim women should be nervous. With several women in the ad who are not limited to Americans but globally featured from Hispanic to Asian verbalizing their pursuits in life– self-esteem, confidenza, strength, pride, courage, and spirit -, the commercial invites female consumers to follow those pursuits through losing weight and be part of the inspiration. The reflection of both anxiety and confidence in their body actually gives a choice to consumers to be happy or anxious. However, in reality, it is not an option for consumers because the ad is shaping and brainwashing everyone’s view on female body through the media. The ad ingeniously ends with emotional scene of a mother whispering to her baby, “beautiful” in order to restate its point as “the real beauty is in you, not on feature”, while capturing the “beautiful moment” instead of beautiful body. Alternate interpretation could be it is telling mothers not to hand over the number anxiety to their daughters by keeping their daughters in shape.

Event Footage:

Figure 3: Twitter


The National Weigh-In Day Event was held in various locations across the United States in order to strengthen the association of good body with the aspects of success. The event information was spread through the social media, and the event was videotaped and published online. The National Weigh-In Day event is an example of cross media advertising that combined “guerrilla [marketing],” and “buzz” (Leiss, et al., 403). With the wide-spread impact of the commercial on TV, this street event was not designed to merely reach the people on the street but to generate a number of viewers online and ultimately create real buzz. The giant scale located in the public threatens the audiences, which reflects the fact that everyone is afraid of being judged by his or her weight. But instead of the number, the scale shows motivating words that people would like to achieve and pursue in life. The audiences are greatly satisfied with the result and filled with motivation to challenge for the better of self. While the documentary formant of the event approaches consumers with more objectivity and empathy through addressing that weight should not limit them, the underlying message is quite simple and critical: if you do not lose weight and make good body, you won’t achieve such goals. The impact of the event might seem insignificant in the first place as it only affects the people in the street, but uploading the footage is another way of “to appellate,” consumers because the online viewers are seeing the affected people and reflecting themselves (Veblen, 34).

As it is mentioned earlier, the view on the female body has been constructed and shaped through the media, and it is especially filtered by the male standard. In their article, “Commodity Feminism” Goldman, Heath, and Smith discuss how the male view other than women themselves affected the view of female body. Although the advertisers have set up new definition for women as independent and away from the male power since 1980s, the freedom from the male gaze is not true, and female body is still a symbol of femininity, defined as “attractiveness to men,[…] sexual availability on male terms” (MacKinnon, 530-531 in Goldman, 337); the definition indicates that male gaze is inevitable and inseparable to define women.

Figure 4: Confidence to stir things up

Figure 4

Along with the Figure 2, one of the posts from the Gains Project, the Figure 4, also asks women to lose weight to attain confidence. But it is important to think that from whom women getting examined and feeling secure. As the definition of femininity, the self-identity of women is determined by how attractive they are to men, and women become sexually vulnerable in that way. The expressions, “gain the confidence to stir things up,” or “show off your confidence,” do not imply the expectation of men, but it is true that those expressions are missing the objects in the sentence. Stir what things up? Or show off your confidence of your body to whom? The missing objects in the Gains Project posts implicitly take place in women’s perception and make them believe that “the confidence” comes from sexual beauty. Since the mass media in these days feature female body with “a code of poses, gestures, body cants and gazes,” too often, both male and female naturally accept and absorb it (Goldman, 337). Although Special K campaign has no indication of male gaze or femininity push, it is reinforcing the ideology along with the femininity.

Goldman explains the “commodity feminism,” as a “sign of independence […] and self-control,” that empowers the identity of women in society, and the Special K campaign could be considered the one (Goldman, 337). The entire campaign convinces women to move on from the number that male gaze imposes, but in reality, the whole thing is about just different wording of the stereotype and ideology. The ideology, “meaning made necessary by the conditions of our society while helping to perpetuate those conditions,” in this campaign is closely the critical relationship between female body and female’s success, and the “conditions,” for the ideology are thoroughly made (Goldman, Papson, 96); the confident smiles on the ad confirms the perpetuation of that ideology, and the missing objects in the posts disguise the ugly truth of it. A number of similar ads already made the world think that ideology is normal and right, and Kellogg just needed to deceive consumers with more plausible words in order to sell its products (Goldman, Papson, 96). Special K’s “Defined by a Number” campaign truly succeeded in disguising the perpetuation of femininity as the promotion of commodity feminism; for Kellogg, women have to be defined by the number. The question is still left unanswered. What will we gain when we lose? The answer would be, the self-identity for others, and the self-identity for us. So, less inch for whom?

Words: 2031

Work Cited

The Commercial


The Event Footage


Leiss, William, Jackie Botterill, Stephen Kline, and Sut Jhally. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. “”The Theory of the Leisure Class”” Journal of Political Economy 8.1 (1899): 106. Print.

Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon L. Smith. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8.3 (1991): 333-51. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” (1996): n. pag. Print

Borado. “Hunger as Idology.” (n.d.): n. pag. Print