Back in the day, I obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree my major’s were Marketing and Organizational Behaviour and unlike my classmates who were salivating to get a job at a big consumer packaged goods company, I was more interested in the psychology of both advertising and organizational culture.
One of the things I learned is that the internal and external culture of an organization is like a personality and if we look closely, core values and beliefs can be determined. An extreme example of this would be AshleyMadision.com which boldly and outwardly applauses itself for being the most successful online service geared at helping people have extramarital affairs. In both the advertising and media exposure, representatives and the owner of AshelyMadision are unapologetic about what they stand for – in fact, their tagline is “Life is Short, Have an Affair”.
If I had to personify AshleyMadison it would go a little something like this:
Occupation: Telemarketing Guru
Hobbies: Driving around in a civic, blaring music, running through red lights and hollarin’ at hotties.
Criminal Records: none, however, the police are watching him closely.
You get the drift. It’s somewhat more difficult to get into the essence of a consumer packaged goods company because they are so good at being unoriginal, “safe”, and outwardly socially responsible (Becel is the key sponsor of Ride for Heart). They have lawyers and PR representatives on staff to make sure that they are protected and have learned very successfully how to leverage any and all loop holes to differentiate their product against the competitor.
What you need to know as a consumer is that you’re your own best advocate and it would be wise of you to be just a little skeptical of claims you hear and see on TV. Advertisers have been caught in the past:
Danone paid $45 million in a class action lawsuit to consumers who busted them on unsubstantiated claims as to the benefits of their yogurt on the digestive system.
In 2010, Coca-Cola was slapped with a lawsuit for its product Vitaminwater for “The beverage company stands accused of selling what amounts to little more than sugar, artificial colouring and water and promoting it as something that can boost immunity, give energy and reduce risk of disease.”
Pfizer’s Centrum was busted for making unsubstantiated claims on colon and breast health.
Kashi has faced some controversy in recent days for claiming their products are natural, when in fact they are made using genetically modified ingredients.
Diamond settled in a class-action lawsuit for 3.5 million for misleading packaging relating to the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids on the heart (FYI, only fish oil omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart health – check out The Health Junction’s prior post on this topic).
The list goes on an on and these are the cases where a consumer took the time and energy to file a complaint. It makes me wonder how many other false, misleading, and/or unsubstantiated claims are running around out there.
So, what can you do? Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1.) Be aware of claims that are being made and if you question the information follow-up with the advertiser to clarify what you heard. If you’re not satisfied, resort to Advertising Standards Canada where you can file a complaint. See yesterday’s post for issues surrounding ASC.
2.) Compare Labels. If you have heard that product ABC is better than XYZ because it’s lower in sodium, next time you go to the supermarket, compare the labels. ABC might be lower in sodium but by how much – ask yourself if the difference is legitimate.
3.) Beware of terms like “all natural”. What does that even mean? It’s not a regulated term. I worked on a jam campaign where the product was “all natural” but had 11 grams of added sugar per 1 tablespoon. When you read a label, the sugar that appears is ADDED and not naturally occurring. It’s evaporated cane sugar. Sugar is sugar my friends and it’s all garbage regardless of cane, white, and brown. This is misleading.
4.) Money Talks. Do not purchase goods from a company that has questionable advertising practices. I have cut the aformentioned jam company out of my life. I’m also not interested in purchasing Activia yogurt, and other such crap. And Becel? Please. Ride for the Heart? It’s insulting to the consumer.
5.) Complain. This one is tricky because it takes time, but if you’re not happy with something you’ve seen file a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada and follow-up with them until you receive a response. Reach out to the advertiser and demand an explanation.
6.) Educate Yourself. I like The Centre for Science in the Public Interest and this site often posts about food/beverage related issues in the news. There is also a great book by Marion Nestle called Food Politics that examines the influence on the food and beverage industry on nutrition. It’s available at the Toronto Public Library.
I would love to hear of any tips you have on keeping yourself informed and aware of potentially misleading or false advertising. Drop me a line!
**DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE THAT ANY ADVERTISEMENTS THAT APPEAR ON THIS PAGE DO NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS OF THE HEALTH JUNCTION**