Let Them Eat French Fries

Seems like the fat cats are on a mission to get fatter. The middle class is in decline, income disparity continues to grow, and now the dining section of the New York Times reports that, “Junk Food Is a Source of Comfort on Capitol Hill.”

What we eat and drink is always very telling about ethos of society, pointing the way for marketers in the short and long-term.

It should come as no surprise that comfort is in. We crave it more than ever with the news getting worse every day. Any escape from dysfunctional leadership, the worldwide economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global warming and host of other serious problems is certainly welcome. The obesity epidemic? Who cares? How is the world a bad place when you’re gorging on a big, warm, juicy cheeseburger and a side of crispy, deep-fried potatoes? Nothing like self-indulgence to forget your troubles.

At the close of the 1980’s, an era marked by high fashion, luxury and indulgence, a trend emerged that I called, “It’s so downscale it’s upscale.” Rolling Rock beer, what was once a regional workingman’s brew became popular in upscale New York bars and restaurants at premium prices. The popularity of blue-collar heroes like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp surged. Traditional comfort foods such as meat loaf and regional favorites like blackened redfish were ubiquitous in high-end eateries on the coasts. Oatmeal became the power breakfast of choice.

Of course, those are comfort foods as well, but there is a major distinction. People then were reacting to the superficiality and over-the-top lifestyles of the Reagan era, searching for authenticity. Now it seems, we just want to kill the pain.

The irony of elected officials and lobbyists in the corridors of power focused on short-term hedonism rather than long-range solutions might be troubling, but the message for marketers is crystal clear.

We have to give the people what they want. Ambiguity was never in, but it’s really out for now. We might want our leaders to put aside petty differences, stop playing politics and act like grown-ups. But in reality, in our own lives, tough love and sacrifice are not in the cards. Pity the poor politician who says they are. Just cut my taxes and increase my benefits. If pigs in a blanket make me feel good in the moment, well, why not? I’ll save the diet for another day.

That day will surely come, but for now, let them eat french fries. We are in dire need of comfort wherever we can find it.

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