“The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.”
― Elena Gorokhova
When I posted a photo of the new KitKat V bar in my private Instagram stories shortly after it was announced, I got quite some reactions. This confirmed a trend I’ve been seeing for quite some time. One of the most clicked and liked posts we ever published on both the website and the Instagram of Antagonist predecessor Vegan Good Life featured Nike’s Space Hippie when it first came out. Despite all the great content we’ve been creating these last six years around the most exciting mission-aligned upcoming brands we could find, no matter how astonishing the photography, how innovative the product… in the end, it’s the big brands of our collective youth that get the most feedback.
“A feeling of warm nostalgia, caused by a candy bar.”
Same goes for KitKat, apparently. And not only do I get it, I kinda feel the same. KitKat was never my jam, but I, too, felt a warm nostalgia and was weirdly touched by seeing such an iconic brand (and I only realized this candy bar indeed is an iconic brand that very moment) “embrace veganism”.
Did they, though?
An Invitation to be Normal
What I think this gut-feeling means is just that it’s exhausting to be vegan. It’s exhausting to be the weirdo, the odd one out, the guy who has to ask for a special dinner on their best friend’s wedding, the friend asking annoying questions when eating out, the one guilt-tripping their family just by being there — the one who can’t share a KitKat with a friend, basically. Never taking a break, never taking a KitKat.
So a vegan KitKat, just like vegan Ben & Jerry’s, vegan Magnum ice cream flavors or a pair of vegan Nike kicks are like a promise: Now you can finally come back into the fold, be a part of mainstream society again, enjoy the products marketed under brand names that made an impact on the history you share with your peers. Symbols for carefree consumerism and comfortable togetherness, an invitation to unite in mind-numbing, capitalism-induced happiness. I want that.
“The camouflaging and green-washing is bonkers.”
But also wtf?! This is still Nestlé we’re talking about, last time I checked the world’s largest food and drink company. And since the accelerating vegan food market is expected to surpass $31.4 billion dollars by 2026, big food companies are just reacting to a trend that will cost them if ignored, that’s very likely all there likely is to it. The marketing and especially the packaging says it all, doesn’t it? Yes, it causes immediate nostalgic feelings, but the color palette, the leaves, just the blatantly obvious green-washing is bonkers.
It’s great brand design work, as the packaging manages to balance the original brand appeal and the ‘newness’, the ‘greenification’ of the brand, which of course is, once the first nostalgia has worn off, a simple re-packaging of a product that, from a nutritional standpoint as well as in the way is is made, still isn’t ‘good’.
This is perfectly executed camouflaging, a high-jacking of a morality-based movement through a product made by one of the most hated companies in the world. It’s hard to believe this tanker (or rather: tank) of a corporation has suddenly seen the light and actually seeks betterment due to a new-found morality and from intrinsic motivation. Yeah no, sounds unlikely.
What sounds much more likely is that we did this!
Late Capitalism crowned the Consumer
When these last years we’ve seen big brands starting to launch sporadic sustainable hero products and implement more vegan spin-offs of their classics, all this really teaches us is this: In an inter-connected new world ruled by the internet, late capitalism has crowned the consumer the ultimate decision maker. We see industries change at a drastic speed because culture is. The market has to adapt.
“Industries change at drastic speed because culture does.”
We’re in a decade of decisive transformation. We’re now entering the ultimate rally for ethical and sustainable decision making on planetary scale, our hand forced by Climate Change. The Nestlé’s and Mars’s of the world just follow the money.
So will I buy the new vegan KitKat bar? Sure, I’ll give it a try. But I’ll also double down on elevating the visibility of brands with actual conscious aspirations to the best of my abilities. Yes, I do think we’ll need the big players in order really trigger decisive change, but I’ll never stop hoping for more Oatlys to come and take over.
On a Knife’s Edge
So, what’s the takeaway here? Well, for me personally, it’s that in my work, I will try and mirror the problem of having to juggle these brand-induced emotions and the undeniable pull they have on our culture as well as the potential positive impact they could have with the obvious downsides — that reporting about them means supporting the last dinosaurs of an industry that needs to change it’s ways drastically.
I personally, and Antagonist as a project, we’ll try and balance on that knife’s edge, applauding new initiatives and championing positive change, while also pointing out the flaws and asking the uncomfortable questions. That’s likely the best we can do — and someone’s gotta.