Sunday, August 21, 2011

When Marketing Folks Invent Reality

Generally speaking, I try to keep rants in this forum to a minimum, cause I know you folks probably don't want to hear it. :-)  But every so often, a food-related thing comes along that I just feel the need to comment on.  Not only to get it off my chest, but in hopes that it'll educate people as well.

I just picked-up a gallon of lowfat milk that was, oddly, branded Land-O-Lakes (yes, the butter people).  It's honestly not all that surprising since most of the dairies in nearby Massachusetts send their milk to one or two processing plants that churn out jugs of the white stuff labeled Hood, Garelick, Cumberland Farms, Guida's, and a bunch of others.  Why not add another well-known label to the mix.  I'm sure they get a nice fat kickback of some sort for the label recognition.

Anyway, there on the jug was a big red star-burst proclaiming, "Zero Trans Fats!"

Um.  Duh.

Clearly, the folks who designed the milk label were borrowed from the butter and margarine departments and they didn't actually do any marketing or scientific research whatsoever.  Milk and its competitor products (soy, rice, etc.) have never and will never contain trans fats.  I give them a pass on the label for real butter because margarine, marketed as a substitute for butter, did have trans fats and it's reasonable to market "real butter" as an alternative.  However, on milk, the label is just plain silly.

You see, with a few small technical exceptions, trans-fats are a man-made thing created as a result of our desire to make liquid vegetable fats semi-solid (read: spreadable) at room temperature.  In other words, they can only be present in things like shortening, margarine, and non-dairy or semi-dairy "spreads."  Milk, which is a natural animal-based product (at least last time I looked), has no business having trans fats in it.

What truly bugs me about this entire thing is that companies are so desperate to sell their product that they're willing to borderline lie to us (staying just barely inside the lines of federal law).  They're willing to pretend as though something formerly was unhealthy for us or that their product used to have an ingredient in it just so they can tout that their own product IS NOW healthy for us.  It's like me marketing soda to you and printing, "No Arsenic Included!" on the label.  It's just plain absurd.

And the really sad part of all of this is that your average American is so out of touch with what's IN their food that they start to believe it when companies tell them something's not there that was never there in the first place.  "OMG, I'm gonna buy the [fill in the blank] milk cause it has NO trans fat in it!"  And if it costs a buck more for that milk, all the better for the company...and the consumer gets unknowingly screwed.

I'd love to see the return of honest advertising.  Instead of telling us what your product doesn't have, tell us what it does have.  Instead of telling us that a steady diet of your product and only your product every meal will make us healthy (that means you, Cheerios), market your product as being a part of a healthy diet, when combined with other healthful foods.

It's these kind of silly, borderline lie-based marketing tactics that contribute to our dietary and health problems in America.  Take, for example, the cookies being marketed as being equivalent to a bowl of oatmeal.  Who the heck wouldn't eat an Oreo for breakfast if they thought it was good for them?  Effective?  Yes.  Shady?  Absolutely.

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