Sunday, December 12, 2010


December 12, 2010

On the carton it says drinking the stuff helps support a healthy brain.
My own grey matter definitely needs to be buttressed after overloading itself all these years with wild and wacky thoughts. Or - gulp! - do they mean it does not support a brain that might be sick or lame?

In any case, Horizon Organic Milk only “helps” - and there’s the catch. How much? My own guess is that there’s almost no help. Because if it were significant they’d be hollering from the rooftops: Become Einstein. Drink Our Wonder Milk!

Therein lies the duplicity. Marketing is meant to confuse and mislead and manipulate. Even when you read the blurb carefully you’re still left in doubt.

Helps stop bad breath? We-he-he-he-hell now, there’s the question. It only has to help a teensy-weensy bit for the company to make that claim. Meantime your putrid mouth is still gassing half of Loganville.

Manufacturers avoid clear assertions that can be challenged. “They claimed it killed all the germs, Your Honor, but I found a muscular one squatting defiantly beside the sink, taunting me.” False advertising. Oh dear. Heavy fine.

So Lysol kills 99.9 percent of them. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s that cunning little 0.1 percent germ that’ll gitcha. Yes, and the deceased are all those fat and feeble germs, relatively harmless and easy to bump off, while the spartan wee bad guys survive and thrive.

But legally the Lysol folks are covered. And here’s where we consumers must be careful, especially with foods and medicines. It’s all in the wording. We have to learn the language of the advertisers, a tricky talk somewhere between truth and lies.

Listerine fights bad breath! Does it win that battle? ‘Course not, or they would say so loudly and proudly and erect a statue to it. Therefore it’s safe to assume that Listerine, though valiant, is actually defeated by its enemy halitosis. Nestle cocoa is the best! Yet that makes it no better than other cocoas in the supermarket. And anyway, whose opinion is Nestle pushing? Could it perchance be Nestle’s own?

Mucinex relieves chest congestion. Sure, relief can be an absolute, the Relief Of Mafeking 110 years ago being the decisive battle in which Britain finally bested South Africa’s besieging Boers. But relieving can also mean just reducing: pain for instance. How much of a reduction? Aha.

At the opposite end of the torso, Beano “works naturally to help prevent gas before it starts”. If it never even started, how could you possibly know whether Beano was working or not?

And again, it only “helps”. This, along with the phrase “up to”, provides full legal protection. Works for up to 48 hours? Yeah, but usually for only five minutes before the agony returns. You could win up to a gazillion dollars – in some other lottery maybe, but not in this one.

The food guys tell us trans fatty acids are murder but they list among their ingredients partially hydrogenated oils which are the same if you take note of the serving size. Foods and drinks need be only a smidgeon less fattening to be labeled “diet”. Sugar-free products contain other suspect sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup.
There is far too much of this marketing ballyhoo to cover in a short article, so here is my own take on a couple more of these dubious claims:

Nutritious (just like all foods are). Made with real cocoa (but only a tiny pinch of it). With the taste of real cheese (only it’s some plastic goo with that chemical Flavor #117 added). Studies have shown (the studies the makers paid some hack or other to glorify). Hurry hurry, offer won’t last long (just until the next offer, which will be a better bargain). And so on.

Nine out of ten doctors surveyed prefer this or that snake oil over Brand X. So where, I want to know, are these ten doctors who were clearly hand-picked to be surveyed? And who, I also want to know, was the dirty treacherous holdout who took the company’s money, promising to prefer its brand and then picked Brand X anyway. Are these the same ten doctors every time and is it that same solitary medical Benedict Arnold?

How many times have we bought something that didn’t work the way we anticipated? It’s because we were induced to believe something that wasn’t really true. We thought “virtually spotless” meant spotless whereas we should have concentrated on “virtually”, which means it isn’t really.

They work on our subconscious. The trick in all marketing is to make us think we’re getting something of far better quality or quantity than it actually is, and so we have to stay alert.

It’s a battle of wits: us versus the manufacturers, and they’re winning. Moreover, these mindbenders have all the time in the world to play with our psyche while we have to unravel their mischief between working and shopping and raising a family. We’ve got to become more cynical.

Some studies I just invented in my milky brain suggest the above paragraphs may help reduce the reader’s spending on all those products that are not at all what they seem.

I really hope so.


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.