Nairobi’s favourite ice cream parlour, Sno Cream is tucked in a nondescript corner of Koinange and Monrovia street. It reminds one of an English pub, the tall stools lining a long counter with an attached footrest. Only that the narrow space is brightly lit with loud yellow patterned tiles on the back wall. The ice cream menu, sundaes and dips on offer are drawn on the wall in a playful manner in a way that would amuse children. The original prices from God knows when are still visible on some images. The new prices, written on pink cards in felt pen ink crudely pasted over the old ones. The Sno Cream management has no time for frills.
A little past the ice cream drawings is a large vintage advert probably out of 70s America. The pale skinned young woman with blonde hair in pigtails, is photographed pouring fizzy 7 Up soda into a tall glass. She wears bright red lipstick and stares back with flirty eyes. Around her, three college hunks, smile broadly at the contents of the glass. The take home message was “Boys like girls who make 7 ups “Floats”.
I found myself thinking about that ad as I drove out of Nairobi’s Industrial area via Bunyala road and approached the Mbagathi roundabout. A large billboard was situated strategically in my direct line of sight. There she was, that girl in a white tank top, gazing seductively, sweat dripping on her glowing skin. A Coke bottle inches from her slightly parted lips and I thought, this so unoriginal. They still use slender girls to sell overpriced sugar flavoured water. The tag line read “Taste the feeling” and it left a bad taste in my mouth.
In the short distance of 20 metres in the traffic queue to the roundabout, I recalled a series of tantalizing silver screen sirens. The busty Pamela Anderson in BayWatch running in slow motion. Halle Berry as a 007 Bond girl emerging from the ocean, dripping in a two piece bathing bikini that made many a man swallow saliva hard. A picture of a cold bottle of soda had triggered a slew of memories that I did even think were still lodged in my brain.
Soda advertising is getting a bit too sexy for my sensibilities. That used to be a tobacco and booze thing. There is a school of thought that argues that subliminal advertising is a hoax. It does not have any effect on people. That it won’t affect consumers buying decisions.
Of course it will or why bother with exorbitant campaigns to distract innocent motorists. External cues influence consumer choices and we gravitate towards what is familiar on the supermarket aisle. That is how advertising works only that it tends to exaggerate the promise and many times, just plainly peddles lies. Soda will not make one thin and sexy any more than cigarettes would make a man rugged and macho. Granted adults have the liberty to exercise their freewill but a cap has to be put on misinformation.
Society has to protect its innocents from stimulating advertising that package leisure products as essentials commodities of existence. The over-play on sex and power to sell anything from bathing soap to luxury cars has become prevalent. Children are predisposed to over stimulation and boundaries are essential to protect them from undue influence until they are old enough to think independently.
The pink elephant in the room, in regards to soda advertising, is not overt sexual messaging but rather the sugar conspiracy. Manufactured sugar is a drug and it is compromising the health of innocent children.
Sugar is flavoured nicotine. It is hidden in all the processed food we eat. We need it like a heroin addict needs a needle.
The connection between sugar and childhood obesity is well documented. John Yudkin, a British professor raised the red flag as far back as 1972 in his controversial book, “Pure White and Deadly. The Problem of Sugar”.
Processed sugar is a fairly new introduction to the African diet but for the short duration of its existence it has become the silent architect of range of new and deadly lifestyle diseases. We may have declared war on red meat, eggs, salt, refined carbs, saturated fats, alcohol, cigarettes but sugar like bacon is too close to heart to live without.
Children are getting hooked to processed sugar from birth and losing the taste for natural foods. By the time they become toddlers, there is nothing that a lollipop or an ice cream cone cannot fix. Our children are overweight stuffed with empty calories of no nutritional value. Childhood obesity is no longer incidental. It is a true health risk. We can keep burying our heads in the sugar bowl in denial satiating our cravings but be warned. Sugar is the new tobacco.