Advertising: The Real Alice in Wonderland

Perhaps you read the USA Today article about the latest food brouhaha since pink slime.  A “green” grocer removed Kashi cereals from the shelves after learning that it’s claim to being “natural” wasn’t what he, and most folks, believe that word means.  Like so many words used in advertising there is no legal definition of “natural” for advertising purposes.

So when Kashi advertises its cereal as “natural” that word has no meaning other than what whatever Kashi wants it to mean.  And Kashi has no qualms advertising its cereal as “natural” even though it uses genetically engineered soy product.  That’s riiiiigth….!  Genetically engineered soy product counts as “natural” in Kashi’s world.

Pink slime is natural in a way that genetically engineered soy product is not.  Yet, folks seem to be less than enthusiatic about pink slime after learning how it is made.  Consumer…enthusiasm…reached a level that resulted in most pink slime production being stopped until the beef industry can better…educate…us about pink slime’s wholesomeness.

There are so many other phrases tossed around in commercials and advertising that I ignore and so I ignore the commercial.  I notice that many weight loss products like to trumpet that the product is “clinically proven” to bring results. Riiiight…! That phrase probably also has no legal meaning in advertising.

For me, “clinically proven” means that the product was subject to a randomized, double-blind clinical trial where one group received the product and another group received a placebo and the product was shown to produce a statistically significant improvement compared to placebo.  I notice that the ads never give me any information allowing me to review the procedure and results of those “clinically proven” results.

Did they give 50 folks the product and when one of them lost weight….eureka! it has been “clinically proven” to bring results? The placebo effect is well known in science but I suspect advertisers are using that to trumpet “clinically proven” results to an unsuspecting (and often desperate) consumer.

When you drive by an apartment complex, have you noticed how are they typically self-described? Every flea-bitten, rat-infested, code enforcement eyesore apartment complex proudly proclaims itself as “luxury apartments.” Because that word also has no legal definition.

I’m not an attorney but I do work with rules.  State government rules.  And in a legal challenge, the standard approach by an administrative law judge is that when a rule uses a word that is not explicitly defined by the rule, then it must be interpreted using that word’s “common” meaning.

Why doesn’t that procedure not apply to advertising?  Enquiring minds want to know…

And if anyone from Kashi is reading this… you’ve lost me as a customer.  I didn’t buy your cereal because I wanted “natural.”  Nor do I  have a problem with genetically engineered soy product (which the government doesn’t require be disclosed).

I do have a problem with your lack of full disclosure about what is in your product.  Unwillingness to be fully honest is a red flag for me.  So I’m not buying any more Kashi products again.  That’s my, and every consumer’s, ultimate form of reprobation.

And if enough of us exercise that reprobation and  that causes you to lose market share, you brought it on yourself.  The “market” is often unforgiving.  I am unforgiving. You fooled me once, but you’ll never get the chance to fool me twice.


11 responses to “Advertising: The Real Alice in Wonderland

  1. I didn’t see that about Kashi, but I saw something similar about yogurt (all-natural, ha ha) on a 60 Minutes episode, I think. Those fruit-on-the-bottom type yogurt products are actually using chemically created fruit-flavored syrups. Then they will throw in a speck of fruit. I’ve been eating this type of yogurt for years and never knew the difference, but once I did know, I was so turned off I’ve never eaten it again. If you eat yogurt, you have to buy it plain and add your own fruit.

  2. And let me be clear, the chemically created syrups are nothing but chemicals, combined in such a way as to resemble the actual fruit, and people can’t tell the difference. These people are actually geniuses, when you think about it.

  3. Goes back to a simple rule – if you have to rely on being “technically” right, youre not.

  4. I must say I am impressed by the ‘Natural’ bottled water people who are thoughtful enough to disclose that *their* water doesn’t contain cholesterol.

  5. Genetically modified actual food items don’t bother me much. An alleged food item that was created out of molecules in a lab does.

  6. I don’t know why this is, but it really bugs me that the most recent comments you make are posted before your previous ones on your blog.

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