Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's been years since I allowed myself to boggle at advertising. I mean, you expect it to be weird, right? But a recent campaign by the agency for the California Milk Processor Board has gone beyond the weird.

The idea, you see, was that everybody likes milk and cookies. So, in order to make people want to go home and drink milk, the agency got permission to put scratch-and-sniff strips that smell like chocolate chip cookies, in bus shelters in San Francisco, so the people waiting for the bus would smell the lovely aroma and go home and get some milk.

OK, I like milk, and I like cookies; but what I see when I step on the scale makes me just a little reluctant to stuff my face with either of them. And, if I'm standing in a bus shelter, I'm not there to eat (except in extreme circumstances). I'm there to catch a fardling bus, or worst case to get out of the rain for a minute. I can and do ignore printed ads, but smells are much harder to ignore. (Which of course is why they tried this.) Also, I'm an asthmatic, and I'm sensitive to strong perfumes, so I dislike smells that other people impose on me. (I actually dislike almost everything that other people impose on me; let's don't even begin on those rolling boom boxes...) It's one thing to say that it smells like chocolate chip cookies; but if the smell isn't coming from actual cookies, then it's coming from some combination of chemicals, and who knows what allergic reactions they might cause.

The real issue with these smelly bus shelters is that the smell isn't there naturally, as in a local Mrs. Field's. It's being imposed artificially by the ad agency to make you want something; and that, folks, in a space where you go out of necessity, is too much. Not to mention that bus shelters in San Francisco are often occupied by homeless or merely poor people, who may not be able to afford either cookies or milk; and for them, it's not just an imposition; it's an insult.

I'm happy to say that the City of San Francisco has ordered the scented strips removed, after getting objections from people with chemical sensitivities. But it was a dumb idea, guys. Let's stick to cute posters. The city got some flack, in a blog on the SFGATE.com site, about the fact that they were removing cookie scented strips from local bus shelters which normally smell like urinals. Well, if I could remove that smell too, I would. Imagine the awfulness of a urine scented bus stop which also had the chocolate chip cookie strip; yikes.


  1. Anonymous5:58 AM

    Hey hey hey,

    come to FRANCE to see what we do with our bus shelters
    and if you speak french you can understand that smell doesn't do anything to change our comportement !



  2. nouchema's English is obviously much better than my French, but I did try to read his (her?) blog. I think it complained that people in French bus shelters spend their time smashing the glass sides; and suggested that the smell of cookies might make them behave better. (It's been 40 years since I read French fluently.) I'm less sure about the effect of the smell of a Big Mac and fries which was also suggested...

  3. Anonymous6:31 AM

    I'm with you, hedera. I have trouble with room fresheners and scented candles. Natural aromas, no problem, but chemically induced aromas of virtually all kinds produce reactions ranging from discomfort breathing to headaches. It's been a lifelong affliction, predating any awareness of chemical toxicity, so I don't think it's in my head. I could not even handle perfumes, including perfumes worn by girls I really wanted to be around, and I would gladly have made that sacrifice if it were possible.

    Besides, if you subject me to an aroma like that, you'd better have a tray of fresh-baked.

    Anonymous David

  4. You should have seen some of the comments on the blog at sfgate.com; if you go there and search the site for "cookies" you probably can. The letters to the editor had it too: the usual remarks from people who don't understand what it's all about, and feel that those of us who are sensitive to smells are ruining it for the rest of the world. Judge not...

    I once actually had to get up and move on BART because the young woman in the next seat (not even the same seat!) was wearing such a strong gardenia perfume that it brought on a hay fever attack. Three feet away. Nose and eyes swelling shut, sneezing, dripping, I was miserable. I've disliked gardenia perfume ever since.