Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

If you remember 1992, I bet you remember the SnackWell’s craze.

That’s when the line was launched by Nabisco and was so well received that shortages occurred. Women across the nation were frenzied, looking for their next cookie fix. I remember searching several stores for the Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes, which were so delicious they had to be counterproductive to calorie-counting women everywhere. The low calorie count per cookie was certainly lost on me, anyhow, because I ate triple the serving size.

Popularity of the SnackWell’s line waned after a few years, but now it’s back, and supposedly yummier than ever.

The SnackWell’s packaging and product line has been revamped, and a campaign has been rolled out to spread the word. The print ad caught my eye, with its close-up of the sky-high stiletto boots and the tagline, “Be bad. Snack well.”

The copy continues the theme with its punch line, “They let you be bad, and still be good.”

I appreciate the creative copy play and how it builds on the brand. Aside from the creative aspect, however, two things are bothersome to me.

First, the campaign theme labels some foods as bad and others as good. This verbiage merely perpetuates the love-hate relationship women have with food. Experts have stressed that generally speaking, foods are neither bad nor good, but it’s the quantity consumed that causes us trouble. Moderation is key when it comes to any food—even eating too many SnackWell’s products will push it from good status to bad.

The second concern is that the theme suggests “being bad” is preferable to “being good.” Such thinking is pervasive in our culture, producing a which-came-first conundrum: Does culture influence the copywriters to use the theme or do copywriters use the theme, thereby influencing culture? I believe they feed each other, because at the core is sin’s deception that breaking the rules and mastering your own fate is way better than yielding to God.

On both accounts, the campaign message is reflective of and detrimental to us, the message’s recipients. That’s why the admonition to guard your heart (Prov. 4:23) is so important—these messages are sneaky, edging into our thoughts and subtly influencing our decisions. Jesus spoke of this too, warning that all our external acts are birthed in the heart (Matt. 15:10–20).

When our hearts eat a steady diet of such messages, we foolishly think that being bad won’t hurt us. But the price Jesus paid to free us from sin’s bondage tells us otherwise.

So be mindful of messages like this. They are “deliciously indulgent, perfectly portioned” for the sinful bent within each one of us.


  1. -Gabe,

    Do you believe that messages in ads have no effect on their audience? If they do have an effect, is it significant? If it is significant, isn’t it therefore worth discussing?

    (I would say that the answers to the first two questions are “no” and “yes” respectively, based on the fact that there are entire industries build around using messages in ads to persuade people to buy stuff).

  2. I’m sure advertising executives don’t put much thought into their advertisements. They probably don’t try to play to our fears, or our self-image, or our desire to keep up with the Joneses. I bet they just throw this stuff out there, not caring whether they generate 10% profit through a hopeful advertisement or a 15% profit through a one that preys on our sin nature.

    Um, actually they do.

    Thanks for the excellent article, Erin!

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