by Katherine Tallent, UNC Charlotte
I thought that because I don’t watch cable TV anymore that preposterous commercials wouldn’t bombard me… but boy was I wrong! Like any graduate student, I spend my weekend nights catching up on shows or movies on different streaming services, and it all started with a generic commercial for orange juice. Eventually, I got commercials for different types of water, and even the occasional commercial for vodka, and that’s when it hit me. All of these commercials for beverages shared a theme in that they exploit “traditional” and stereotypical ideas of nature and the natural world to earn a profit.
How Does Bacon fit with Beverage Commercials?
When I realized that these commercials exploit nature and the natural world for profit, I instantly connected them to Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon is not a man you hear about in everyday conversation (unless of course, you study the humanities, like me!) but to give a brief run down on Bacon and his beliefs, he was a prominent philosopher, writer, scientist, etc., in the 16th and 17th century, and he was kind of a big deal in what many call the “Scientific Revolution.” Carolyn Merchant puts it best when she writes, “It was Bacon’s singular achievement to demonstrate through rhetoric, metaphor, and vivid example how the ‘secrets of nature’ could be extracted and put into use in the service of humankind” (150). One of Bacon’s really important works, Novum Organum, is all about a new form of science and how humans must study nature and learn all of it’s so-called “secrets.” So basically, Bacon’s ideas were all “part of an emerging framework of science, technology, capitalist development, and Christian religion that provided hope for the recovery of humanity’s dominion over nature lost in the Fall from Eden” (Merchant 162).
In Novum Organum, Bacon delves into his beliefs about the relationship between man and nature, writing, ‘‘Let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest” (Merchant 150). In fact, Bacon sees man as “the minister and interpreter of nature” and he declares, “The present discoveries in science are such as lie immediately beneath the surface of common notions. It is necessary, however, to penetrate the more secret and remote parts of nature, in order to abstract both notions and axioms from things by a more certain and guarded method.” It’s a little creepy how Bacon describes learning about nature, especially because he does so in overtly sexual terms, stating that we must “penetrate” nature’s “more secret and remote parts.” Yikes. Merchant explains that Bacon goes even further, stating, that “by art and the hand of man ‘nature can be forced out of her natural state and squeezed and molded’ into revealing her hidden secrets’” (162).
The Exploitation of Nature in Beverage Commercials
You may be wondering, okay so that’s what Bacon thinks, but what does this have to do with drink commercials? Well, consider your ideas about the natural world and what it means for something to be “natural” and how these ideas fit in with these various commercials:
• Simply Orange:
o This is a 30 second commercial that has the voice of a kindly man (Donald Sutherland) over various shots of nature. Sutherland states, “Welcome to the Simply Orange tour. This is our plant [image of an orange tree.] These are our workers [image of oranges on the tree branches.] And this is upper management [image of the sun.] But what you won’t find around here is any freezing, flavoring, or concentrating, which brings us to our end product. Simply Orange. Honestly Simple. [Image of an owl, hooting.] That’s just the night watchman.”
How strange is this commercial? Simply Orange seems to be saying that nature itself works for their company, when in actuality that is a. impossible, and b. dismissive of the actual human employees who work for the company. However, it is smart for Simply Orange to claim that nature is on their side, as it seems to imply that their company possesses Bacon’s coveted secrets of nature. If Simply Orange knows the secrets of nature and even has nature working for them, that must mean they have authentic, all-natural orange juice, right? Maybe not. Coca Cola, who owns Simply Orange, actually uses a computer-based algorithm to create the orange juice, which seems contrary to everything the commercial argues (see this Bloomberg article for more info about the algorithm).
If you’re interested in viewing other orange juice commercials that have a weird vibe about nature, try viewing this commercial for Florida’s Natural.
• Fiji water:
o This 30 second commercial has a beautiful song which is performed by the Nawaka Village Methodist Choir playing in the background, over the outline of a water bottle that has various flashing images of nature inside of it. The narrator, with a childlike voice, states, “Fiji water is a gift from nature to us to repay our gift of leaving it completely alone. Bottled at the source, untouched by man, it’s Earth’s finest water.”
If you haven’t noticed, these commercials seem to always suggest the impossible. Simply Orange can’t employ nature itself to be an employee, just like Fiji Water cannot claim to get water straight from the source yet also claim it is untouched by man. Contrary to what Fiji Water claims, it is impossible to get the water out of Fiji without some sort of human interference. On their website, Fiji Water claims to use a “natural artesian aquifer” to retrieve the water. However, the artesian aquifer itself shows how involved “man” is in Fiji Water’s process:
An artesian aquifer must be drilled into the ground, which penetrates the Earth in a very Baconian way, and thus Fiji Water seeks to show viewers how they possess the secrets of nature. Because they have this knowledge, their water must ultimately be superior, right?
If you’re interested in viewing other water commercials that have a weird vibe about nature, try viewing this commercial for Smart Water.
• Belvedere Vodka:
o In case you thought that this Baconian predicament was reserved for only water and juice commercials, think again! In this one-minute commercial, Belvedere Vodka puts text over various images of nature as they tell their story. The text states, “Poland 600 years ago / Vodka is created. / It is natural / It is raw / It is beautiful. / Glacier stream / Plush forest / Cool air. / This is where Belvedere / Comes from. / This is where we wanted to go / Back to pure water and Polish Dankowskie rye, / Back to natural taste, / Back to where it began. / The story of Belvedere / is the story of vodka. / Straight up, / On rocks, / With a splash. / Dirty. But beautiful. / Your celebrations, / Your unforgettable nights / Belvedere means beautiful to see.”
Like Fiji Water, Belvedere Vodka is trying to make viewers believe that they have cracked the code, so to speak, to nature’s secrets. Like Simply Orange, they are also trying to make viewers believe that nature and the natural world are a vital part to their story. In using terms like “natural” and “raw,” they imply the purity of nature that all of these previous commercials also invoke: nature is untouched by man! Or in this case, nature was untouched by man, until Belvedere came and made some “tasty” vodka from it. Not quite the same, is it?
What I’ve noticed applies not only to these beverage commercials, but advertising and media in general. These companies seek to appeal to viewers as Baconian knowers of nature’s “secrets” in the hopes of earning a profit. They all tell the same story: their company has a unique relationship with the natural world and that makes their products the best! However, the relationships that these companies display in their advertisements are not as kosher as the reality behind it all. At the end of the day, these companies actually engage, usually in a harmful way, with the natural world while simultaneously claiming themselves as experts who know more about the means of production than nature itself.
Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. 1620.
Merchant, Carolyn. “Secrets of Nature: The Bacon Debates Revisited.” Journal of the History of Ideas 69.1 (2008): 147–162.