During a commercial break on CNN, Marie Osmond comes on the screen and you immediately expect it to be another weight-loss product commercial. It's not.
A somber Osmond talks about being prepared in the event of some catastrophe, when access to food, energy and medicine is interrupted. Not just for days but months, or longer.
The commercial for Wise Company, a firm in what appears to be a rapidly-growing survival food and gear industry, is part of a major campaign. In September 2013 Osmond signed a deal to become the company's marketing spokesperson and her image and name is prevalent on the company's website and marketing material.
“Not only does Marie resonate well with our target audience — predominately women in the 25-50 range — she personally appreciates the value of being prepared for any crisis situation, and like many women juggling career and family, she also understands the need to quickly and easily provide her family with shelf-stable, great-tasting foods,” said Wise Company founder Brian Neville, when he announced the deal.
In addition to appearing in television commercials for the company Osmond also produced the infomercial below.
Ready for more than hurricanes
Wise Company notes that the U.S. experiences as many as 50 natural disasters each year, leaving residents in affected areas without access to life's necessities. While that may be true, it's unlikely that there are significantly more disasters than there have been in past decades, before the public was served by dozens of survival product companies.
In any event, when a tornado or hurricane strikes, help normally arrives from unaffected areas in a timely manner. One gets the sense that this new breed of survival products is designed to be used for more than just a few days.
For example, Wise sells a package of freeze-dried food to feed two adults for up to a year, claiming a shelf life of 25 years. That claim, however, has been challenged by some of its competitors.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks many authorities urged Americans to assemble a “survival kit” as a prudent precaution. But the instant soup, dried fruit, flashlight, radio and blankets that make up these do-it-yourself kits are only meant to tide the users over for a week or two.
The new marketing push for survival food and gear may suggest the population of “doomsday preppers,” those who believe the collapse of civilization is imminent, is growing.
End of the world on screen
The end of the world is also an idea taking hold in popular culture. Since 9/11 there have been several movies in which disease, space aliens, zombie hordes, asteroids and, coming soon, Godzilla, have threatened mankind's existence.
The near-collapse of the world financial system in 2008 may have increased this depressing trend. Companies creating survival products have been quick to respond.
For example, a company called Legacy Premium offers food storage, survival kits, water storage and fuel. A 2-person survival “bug out” bag costs $98.
“You can protect your family with a survival prepper bug-out bag, the product description says. “The necessary meals, water, first aid and hygiene items have been gathered and packed for you.”
Amazon.comoffers a wide range of survival products you can order online, including IOSAT potassium iodide tablets to protect against nuclear poisoning, an Israeli military-civilian gas mask and an KA-BAR Marine Corps fighting knife.
Or you might order the book “Ham Radio For Dummies.” Don't have a ham radio? You will.
"In the aftermath of a disaster, once other forms of communication stop working, there will be others trying to contact fellow survivors on ham radio waves,” the author writes. “Being able to operate a ham radio is an excellent skill to have, because another survivor's information could be extremely important to your current situation."
What began in recent years as a fringe market niche appears to be moving mainstream. While being prepared to deal with any eventuality is a healthy thing – it's the Boy Scouts' motto, after all -- it is worth remembering that this kind of fear-driven marketing has occurred in the past.
In the early 60s many Americans dug up their backyards to build bomb shelters, fearful that Cold War tensions would unleash a nuclear holocaust.
In the late 1970s, a time of gasoline shortages and runaway inflation, a popular magazine called Mother Earth News urged readers to buy gold and advertised products to help consumers survive the coming collapse.
Just a couple of years ago nonstop commercials on cable TV urged viewers to buy gold since dollars would soon be worthless. At the time gold was approaching $2000 an ounce. Today it's around $1,300.
In none of these cases were the worst fears realized. But what the survival products industry will be the first to say, that doesn't mean they won't someday.