Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lettuce Get Started: The Hidden Valley Advertising Mistake

Watch this video and tell me what you think:

I'm not a food snob. I think if a kid dips her broccoli into ranch dressing before she eats it, that's alright. I think getting kids to eat salad is great. And I won't get all nutty about it if you make the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing from the packet (although ranch from scratch is my preference). All of this is good. We are all in this together - cooking schools, companies, spokespeople, farms, volunteer cooks, chefs - we all want to do right by kids and help them eat well and be healthy. Kumbaya.

But here's the problem: These people are annoying...

They make eating vegetables so pitifully uncool. Why are adults hell-bent on talking to six year olds as if they are two - yes, I'm talking to you crazy, valley-girl, Chef Reba - and so unsure of our kids abilities that even six year olds aren't allowed to use real knives? And really does it have to be salad art? Do we have to make it all dumb and cutesie for kids to get it? Really?

If I were a kid, I would humor the adults, smile for the cameras and then crack open a can of Pringles and go back to reading my graphic novels and thinking adults were weird and irrelevant.

Hidden Valley, Jennie Garth - you are good people, a good company, you care about kids - this isn't how you want to be represented in the world - flat, sweet, hokey, without imagination. (And without any viewers on You Tube. There's no way this saccharin will go viral) You are better than this. You are better than Piccolo Chef, a perfectly nice, run-of-the-mill cooking school like so many others, that charges yuppies $40 a class, so their three year old can make Lady Bug Tomatoes, something they will enjoy creating, but never actually eat. Your mission is better than this. You can do more.

You want to make an impact? Show you care? Come to Harlem. Pick an impoverished, under-funded, ignored public school. There's a bunch. The kids may or may not be camera-ready, so be prepared for that. You won't be able to script this and say dumb things like "Lettuce get started...". You'll have to see what they give you. Some kids might never have cooked before, so there's no telling what they might say or do. You'll have to start from the beginning. You'll have to meet them where they are, wherever that is, and you won't know until you get there.

The setting won't be lush farmland, mind you, but bleak, grey walls and some classrooms will have minimal light. You'll have to adjust your lighting for that, maybe bring in a director of photography.

You can bring your veggies and your dips and your cameras right past the metal detectors - and cook real food. Boggle their minds. Pay the kids some attention. Hand them real knives. Trust them that they won't stab each other in the eye, because no matter what is happening in their lives, every kid is a good kid and wants to be something good in the world. Expect the best from them. Because for one or two kids in the group, you might be the only one who does.

Let them feel the heat of the pan, the sizzle of the oil, the camaraderie of the kitchen - which will be a battered hot plate on a small table in the back of the classroom - the sheer joy and exhaustion of getting a big job done together. Don't talk to them like they are imbeciles. Don't make food with funny faces, or salad art, or vegetable critters that can be "glued together" with cream cheese, or any other cloying, condescending gimmick.

Just cook. Make a salad. Talk to them like they are peers and get them to talk to you, while you shut up and listen. Find out who they are. Smile a lot. Have fun. See how unique and special they are. Let them see that food is about people coming together, not crafts.

Then, share your food and see if they don't eat. See if you can't change the world doing this...and also sell some product.

There's your marketing campaign, Hidden Valley. You're welcome.

xo YM



Cheryl Arkison said...

OMG, I want to smack Chef Reba. My daughter's preschool teacher speaks to her kids far better than that.

Food is only another example of adults not respecting the mind of a child and letting their curiosity reign. And, as you point out, their inherent goodness.

Lynda said...

Great post - you nailed it. It's about the connection to our kids, our food and ourselves - if it's authentic, the rest will follow.

THE Tough Cookie said...

You said a mouthful. Standing on my chair applauding you!!

Christina said...

well said. Ive been spying these ads all over. I actually spent some time looking at all of them on their site because I "follow" jennie garth (dont ask why. well, if you must know, I'm a 90201 freak from way back-LOL). Anyway, it was nice hearing your take on these strange ads.

Paula said...

Well said. Countless food companies and their marketing teams should join in with Hidden Valley and take a second, even third helping of this post.

Lemonfrog said...

What is your recipe for ranch dressing?

Lemonfrog said...

WHat is your recipe for making your own ranch dressing? It's been difficult to find a good one.

Lemonfrog said...

I'm looking for a good recipe for home-made ranch dressing.

Barbara | VinoLuciStyle said...

Can only commend you for speaking out. So much of advertising seems to play to the 'dumbing down' of America; this video actually had me cringe. Right on with your suggestions; great post.

Anonymous said...

Common Threads does this with volunteers in many areas like Chicago, Boston, LA, Miami.

I volunteer with this organization and it is luckilly growing sustainably.

I urge ALL to check it out.

SaintTigerlily said...

All beautifully put and I totally agree but I have to wonder about this kind of stuff. When so many popular tv and movies are dumbed down like this....maybe there is a population who is viewing and thinking it is great stuff? Just food for thought.

Erika - I mix one part may to two parts sour cream, add in a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped scallions, ditto for parsley and finely diced garlic, add salt and pepper and let it sit overnight: ranch!

Lauren said...

Chef Reba? Is that the little pint-sized blonde sugar nugget's name? You're very kind to only use the word "annoying".

Totally agree. When did the trend for making "art" with food to make kids eat it start? I never remember this as a kid. Besides I think my reaction would have been stop playing with my damn food and let me eat it.

Grace @eatdinner said...

Love this post. It's so true that corporate "family dinner" and/or "cooking with kids" segments rarely match reality, because reality is messy. But what's wrong with that? (I did a similar post in August at

MrsWheelbarrow said...

Nicely done, Kim. Really, you deserve to be heard here. No one else has said it so articulately and passionately. xoCathy

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

And I thought the Chef Boyardee commercials I wrote about this week were bad. Well, they are bad. Awful, actually. But in a different way. This one just makes me want to reach through the screen and pinch someone. Is this Chef Reba a real person? Not a TV character? Oh my.

Couscous & Consciousness said...

Great post - you are so right!

That Chef Reba is downright creepy. Made my skin crawl, and then I wanted to slap her and I am not a violent person. My partner will vouch for that - he calls me the "peace maker" cos I will pretty much go out of my way to keep the peace at all costs. But, honestly, if I was in the same room as her I'm sure I really would have slapped her!


Mom101 said...

If I ever have a food client, I'm hiring you.

In fact, Hidden Valley should hire you.

Nuts about food said...

You said it all...

calliope said...

what a great post! I am just now trying to engage my toddler son in what I am doing as I prepare our meals in the kitchen video felt like it could have been filmed on two days. Adults on day one and kids on day two.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Erika -

Saint Tigerlily's ranch recipe is great, and easy, and there's also this one which I use that I originally got from Smitten Kitchen. Either will get the job done.

1/2 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or red onion

Combine. Serve over salad or in slaw.


The Yummy Mummy said...

Saint Tigerlily -

Well, I think you're right. There is a segment of the population - possibly a huge one - that is fine with this dumbed-down stuff.

But really, I think this kind of advertising doesn't have bite or drama. People don't hate it, but it probably doesn't resonate with them either. It just gets played and ignored.

And that's not what you want to have happen when you are trying to position your company as a world player and serious cultural contributor and also trying to get people to choose your products over everyone else's.


Shauna said...

I love you. I seriously do.


p.s. bohemian said...

"so you can put (your kids) to work" - really?!? that is certainly NOT my motivation for inviting my kids to learn kitchen skills!

And that chef? People like her are what turned my son off from pretty much all things 'kid' when he was about 7 or 8 - he can not stand being talked to like that and who can blame him!

Wendy said...

My favorite part is Jennie Garth's thinly-veiled disdain for the whole thing. Except for the line "I love salad", which I believed.

I used to teach 6 and 7-year-olds to cook over the campfire and propane stove regularly at summer camp, and then watch with amusement during the one mommy-and-me week at how much this freaked the moms out. ("I'd better do the cutting, honey.")

Corrie said...

too funny! she's so condascending that chef and my 2 year old twins are spoken to better than that!

Zenzhey said...

Wonderful blog post. You really summed up what i think, good for you!

Simply Mel {Reverie} said...

Where the heck have I been? My first time visiting here, and I am loving everything I read! AMEN, and DOUBLE AMEN to everything you said here. Let's keep it real ~

Bridget Starkey said...

Thanks for your feedback, Kim. We appreciate hearing from real moms, like yourself. We have shared this feedback with the team, and also thought you might like to know that the Hidden Valley team has been empowering schools to implement veggie gardens and nutrition programs the past four years via the Love Your Veggies™ grant program (which has awarded nearly $1 million dollars in school grants). You can read more about this initiative and the other projects supported by Hidden Valley on our website:

- Bridget Starkey, Current on behalf of Hidden Valley

Melissa Graham said...

My Chicago-based non-profit, Purple Asparagus, has been providing nutrition education for the past 5 years in some of our more disadvantaged communities. For the most part, I would agree with you about this video. I believe that if you talk to kids like babies, they'll act like babies. I do not, however, agree with the idea of giving a whole classroom of 6 year olds knives. Perhaps, it's my 10 years as an attorney, but that just makes me nervous. Instead, we've found hand choppers that can cut almost anything. That being said there's no reason why, in this video, that the kids couldn't have been using real knives as oppose to those "salad" knives (who go the product placement on that one?)

Also, I have come across Hidden Valley's Love your Veggie's program before and they are doing terrific stuff with school gardens all over the country.