The latter is what I want to talk about today. You really wouldn’t think that any smart brand manager would try this stuff in a time of massive social interaction among consumers. You’d be wrong. In fact, a bill was introduced last year (the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013) which seeks to change food labeling requirements as well as dealing with package labeling and allegedly misleading claims about what foods are “healthy,” “natural” or “made with whole grain.” Now given the state of affairs in Washington, it’s not unlikely this bill will become law (oops, no politics here!). However, the fact that the issue of deceptive packaging and marketing is on the minds of both state and federal legislators doesn’t speak well of the industry.
Just because a package can say “No Trans Fat” if there is less than half a gram in the product doesn’t mean “no trans fat.” If there is a half gram per serving and you eat two or three servings (as if you only eat the amount of snack foods that’s a single serving…), you’ve ingested an amount that should be identified. “Natural” is sold as healthy when it’s can be anything but (see “high fructose corn syrup“). Telling consumers that high-sugar products are good for them (Nutella) or how they’ll protect a kid’s immune system (Rice Krispies) is more dumb than dishonest. But food brands aren’t the only ones.
Since it’s that diet time of year, false weight-loss claims are in vogue. So much so that the FTC has issued Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight-Loss Claims, which is an update of a 2003 booklet on how media should treat weight-loss advertising. We still saw ads for wearing sneakers that can make you skinny. Let’s not even get started on airbrushing models. It’s nice that someone is charged with verifying advertising claims but it does raise a very basic question.
Why would you lie? Labeling lawsuits are skyrocketing. Maybe in part because we live in a litigious world but maybe because it’s much easier for consumers to get information and to communicate. Why would you feel the need to lie given those things? Why does it take a lawsuit or governmental intervention or a social media blow-up when all that should be required to fix this is a brand manager’s common sense? Your ad may be for cereal but it often turns out the box is full of beans (as my Dad likes to say about people who are full of something else…).
Consumers are smart and getting smarter every day. Treating them any differently is dumb, which you’re not, right?