Some of you may have heard about a little issue Nutella faced recently when a government agency politely told them that they have to stop airing their commercial that indicated their chocolate-based spread was part of a breakfast. Apparently it was considered misleading, suggesting that viewers might think it was the chocolate-based spread that was the healthy part.
Phew, glad that got cleared up.
If you’re involved in health, food, financial, or other regulated industries, then you know that there are certain rules that you have to be careful not to cross, because if you do, chances are you’ll get a similar letter, typically followed by fines of crossing said line, and could be subjected to further lawsuits for making erroneous suggestions.
Before we go any further, yes, I did include financial industries in that, which includes insurance and banks, which you are probably scratching your head and saying,
“No way, those guys don’t get caught. Pishaaaaw, you’re joking, look at the havoc they wrecked.”
I know, sounds crazy, but they didn’t advertise their shenanigans. This is about marketing and advertising, not their actual actions.
Non-regulated industries also have to abide by truth in advertising as well. For instance, unregulated vitamins can’t say they have health benefits, and cosmetics companies can only say their products APPEAR to reduce fine lines, but they can’t actually say they DO reduce them. Bubble gum can only say their flavor is long lasting, which is a subjective assessment, it can’t say it lasts a long time or something more definitive.
I once heard of a laptop manufacturer back in the 1990s that got sued over the advertised duration of their batteries. Can you imagine? Putting a number out there without an obvious asterix? Seriously, those people were wild back then in the early days of the frontier.
Truth in General
So at least we cannot market things that are blatently false. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t grey areas. There are the “lifestyle” stories on “news programs”, and advertorials, which look like news … wait … are you seeing a pattern?
The News, which includes journalism, reporting, news shows, news hours, prime time news, news summaries, …. none of that requires truth. Same goes for politics. There lying is free game. It’s strange, it’s silly, because as citizens (legal, illegal, or in-transition) of a western, modern society with freedom of the press we have been led to accept that news is unbiased and advertising is persuasive.
No, so sorry to see that is no longer the case. You see, the same validity requirements do not apply to those. Something about paid versus unpaid promotion, which is strange because we all know that the bias on the news is based on who owns the media company holding company, so … it just gets too confusing.
Our focus seems to have changed, where we have to, we SHOULD question everything. The news is not unbiased, the words spoken by leaders are not true, and we’ve come to a point in our lives when the phrase “technically true” has become a sign of a win.
So, back to the Nutella. The commercial was correct in it’s initial run. It said it was a part of a healthy breakfast, which the lovely actress in the spot clearly said included whole grain toast and low-fat milk. Those are the healthy parts. The truth in advertising police said no, no, no, that’s too confusing for the American public to differentiate between because you are misleading then to think that Nutella is healthy because it has hazelnut in it.
Better be careful or everyone will reference back to the Bill Cosby skit where he talks about chocolate cake for breakfast. It has flour, it has milk, it has eggs … it’s healthy! (I’m still not entirely clear on why it’s not considered healthy, and don’t go to the sugar part, Mr. Leggo my Eggo, ’cause that just won’t fly in this power shot red bull chaser high paced society.)
It’s strange to wonder when the general public is expected to think and when they are expected to follow blindly. Do we listen to the news that reports outright lies of national threats of cliffs that aren’t real, and then dismiss them when they get the weather right, one in 5 times, or do we just have to face the fact that everyone is gunning for the loop hole to get their point across and review everything with a critical eye and make it stand up to validation?
If your arguments, your message, your idea, your campaign doesn’t stand up to the message, you are not being authentic and the public will eventually figure it out. Some of your audience may not like your version of authenticity, but overall, it’s the right way to go. Be honest.
You might be surprised how creative you can get with a message of honesty.
Kids will eat dry toast that’s healthy if you spread chocolate on it. There are creative ways of saying that without misleading, and it plays to a common theme in the lives of parents. Go with that?!