False or Misleading Advertisements and Labels: Who wins?

VICTOR OR VICTIM

I am not a fan of fancy jewelry or of designer clothes, fitting for a star or a celebrity that poses.  Neither am I a lover of first class and VIP pass or special made cars that go fast. My friends and family think I am too ordinary and simple while some less charitable folks think it is a situation of “fox calling the grape sour because it cannot get it”. Don’t get me wrong. There are things I fuss about and will kick a tantrum or even cuss about.

For example, food and drink. I am crazy about what I eat and drink. You are what you eat so I try to avoid eating carcass or anything that had a face or brain. I also try to follow the wheat and rice motto: “If it white it not right”. Therefore, I try and avoid white bread, white rice and white sugar. For beverage, I do crave natural juices over mixed drinks.

Yeah. I love natural juices. Imagine 100% juice caressing your taste buds as it gushes down your throat and soothe your thirst. While I won’t pay large sums of money for designer jeans, I don’t mind paying mega bucks for quality juice.

false-advertising-misleading-claimsIn short, I try to eat healthy but it seems the best things in life are not free and are more for the wealthy. So, you can imagine my chagrin when a poor chap like me buys expensive things and get substitutes. Buying leather and getting leatherette or faux. Buying Juice and getting drinks. It is akin to passing off a harlot as a lady.

Here is what happened. I went into a reputable supermarket in Upper St. Andrew, Jamaica. I bought a bottle of 100% juice made by a reputable juice company. Needless to mention, the brand also had a reputation for high price. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was sold mixed drinks as 100% juice. Are you surprised that I was surprised? Don’t laugh. Chances are you got shafted too.

You see, many times we are misled and even taken advantage of by people and organizations that we would not, even for a minute, expect such behaviour from. The painful part is not that we got shafted as in life we can expect to get used, abused and refused. The hurtful part is when we are taken advantage of by someone or something that we loved, respected and trusted. Yet, it is now so common to be ripped off that regrettably, uncommon is now common and abnormal has become normal.

'What's it to be,gentlemen,-whole lies or half truths?'Yes. It has become such a sport to “exploit” people that many individuals and organizations delve into the art and science of persuading and confusing. It is fun for some to get much from none. They make exaggerated claims and argue it is legal and it is called “puffery” or advertisement.  In Jamaica, we say it is  “tricks in trade and mischievous in business” or simply, bamboozled. Regardless of what they want to call it, an apple by any other name is still an apple. It’s deception.

Fooling some people sometimes

By the way, did I tell you which brand product it was that I bought in a reputable supermarket in a reputable area in upper St. Andrew Jamaica and also in Walmart and in Publix in USA. It is Mott’s: 100% Apple Juice.

Seriously now, who does that? It is more like, who doesn’t do that. A growing number of food and drink companies are labeling their products “all natural” or “100% juice” to attract health-concerned customers in order to improve their bottom line and get in the black. Do you feel deceived though?

Facts Vs Figures

motts 100% 2motts label

Look at the picture and as they taught us in law course, “res ipsa loquitor’ – the thing speaks for itself.

Yes, as you can see the #100%juice is noticeable, big, pronounced, bold, standing tall. It is conspicuously placed at the front of the bottle and can be seen from far away. However, in smaller print, at the back of the bottle, is a list of the contents stating water, apple juice  concentrate and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Wait a minute. The first ingredient is water in a bottle of 100% Apple Juice?  The second ingredient is Apple Juice from concentrate. The third is ascorbic acid. What does this mean? Where is the 100% juice?

Let me quickly share a legal packaging requirement with you: Ingredients for a product should be listed in descending order with the ingredient that is the most, in terms of volume, weight and size, being listed first. Simply put, put the most first.  If water is listed first it means that water is the majority of the content. In a bottle of a 100% apple juice, the only ingredient to be listed is apple juice.

false and misleading labeling reqdIf not, then we need to find a creative way of explaining it such that a child can understand that 100% doesn’t mean ALL, anymore.  Please bear in mind that the label clearly stated, “contains 100% Apple Juice” and elementary school kids know that a 100% of something mean there is nothing else.

Not saying Mott’s, is telling lies. Mott’s did say CONTAIN 100% juice, not that the entire content of the bottle is 100% apple juice. Just that the statement is misleading if not false.

Let’s look at it this way: if Mott’s pour 100% apple juice in the bottle to say a ¼ full and then pour in water for the other ¾, it would not have lied. The bottle does contain 100% juice, albeit, the entire content of the bottle is not 100% juice. This should cover all legal requirements? Right?  Tricks in trade and mischievous in business. Figures don’t lie but liars can figure. Sigh. False or misleading? Well. Hmmm.

Technically, the jury could still be out on this one and in the mean time this “façade” is seemingly being complicity given the green light by regulatory bodies, distributors and even us, as customers. I can understand businesses being crafty to make profits and i know how easy it is to deceive people. What I can’t appreciate is how the regulatory bodies and the distributors seems oblivious or even complicit to this deceptive act.

You see, when I was in college, they taught us Latin terms such as caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) and caveat venditor (let the seller beware). They told us that in the 18th and 19th century, buyers had to be on their Ps and Qs as producers were taking disadvantage of them. In short, ripping them off. Hence the term caveat emptor. Then they taught us that in the 20th century the table turned as sellers now had to be aware  of how they produce and sold goods (caveat venditor). We were taught that legislation such as the Sales of Goods Act, Fair Trade Commission etc. would protect the unsuspecting and maybe “naïve” customers from the power and duplicity of big business. What morons we were.

IMG_20160716_150147
Took this picture with my phone at a supermarket in St. Andrew, Jamaica. Several brands are touting their drinks as juices.

Of course, there are some Mott’s drinks that are more juice than some but none is 100% juice. As mentioned, many other drinks company are also passing off mixed drinks as Juices. See photo.

The blatant way in which this deception is done makes the devil blush. While many devilish things are done in the dark, these companies exploit us in broad daylight after luring us with advertisements in our own home on television, online and in newspaper.

We know the bottom line for many businesses is profit and it is important to be in the black, but not by fraud and deception. (By the way,  being in the black or making a profit is one of the few times the word “black” is use in a positive sense. If you are making a loss, then you are said to be in the red).

Of course, there are some companies that do have morals and value Honesty, Integrity and Trust. As such, they not only say it, but make it. In Jamaica, one such company is Orijin, which as we say in Jamaica , “a the real thing”. Their label says 100% juice and their list of ingredients back up the claim. No water.

In the USA, Naked Juice is also a really fruity juice. They too are 100% juice but I need to tell you the naked truth about what happened to them back in 2011.  Naked Juice is made by Pepsi Co Inc and they were sued for claiming there juice was All Natural.

Orijin juicenaked juice

Guilty as charged.

Here is the facts of the “real news”. In 2011, Naked Juice was forced to retract their claim that their Naked juice was “100% fruit” and “all natural.” The juice company was actually including ascorbic acid (vitamin c) and synthetic sources of fiber in its beverages — proving that “all natural” and #100% juice can be fairly meaningless buzzwords.   The complaint points out that the “front-of-package promises that the product is ‘ALL NATURAL’ and ‘100% JUICE.’ (Sounds familiar?)

It was held by the Court that a reasonable consumer would not assume that defendants were being deceptive and would not know to read the very-fine-print ingredient label.

Naked juice labelPepsiCo Inc. agreed to settle for a $9 million lawsuit where each customer could receive up to US$75 in accordance to the company’s false, misleading and deceptive advertisements. They also dropped the “ALL NATURAL” claim from their labels.

Other companies, such as Kashi and General Mills Inc. faced identical disputes for using GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, while claiming to be #100percent natural and containing no artificial ingredients.

Facing the music

As Albert Einstein once said, The world is a dangerous place; not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.

I must agree, there have been changes in the ways that businesses operate today and we are and should be thankful for the Fair Trade Commissions and other legislation. However, it is hard to accept a bottle of ¼ juice and ¾ water being sold as a bottle of 100% juice.

If Pepsi was forced to change their labels and advertising for their Naked Juice, this precedent could and should be applied to other companies that are passing off mixed drinks as 100% juice. Just change the label…. and the price. 

You know what they also taught in college. The customer is king and is always right. Fortunately, I was going through my recurring moments of truancy and had missed class that day so I didn’t learned it. I am glad I didn’t. Which King? Consumers are vagabonds.

If consumers are vagabonds, what are big businesses that exploit vagabonds? There is no winner.

CONCLUSION

false and misleading adsI now hope that you are faced with the dilemma of keeping quiet, not rocking the boat and continue enjoying a “watery” bottle of 100% Apple Juice or kicking a tantrum like a spoil child whose parents are not giving him or her juice after he or she had asked for it.

Not that one should be distrustful of companies, supermarkets and government and become ardent advocate and  #startamovement against false and misleading advertisement, but ignorance is not bliss nor is it an excuse at law.

As you have seen, reputable organizations  do tell “lies” and call it advertisement and marketing. That prompted this blong as I am very uncomfortable of big business or people taking advantage of the poor and meek, because I am poor. I also detest the idea of so call advertisers making false or misleading claims and calling it marketing as I am a chartered marketer.

In fact, marketers are sworn to a strict code of ethics that prohibit them from lying and making false claims.  We embrace the values of Honesty, Integrity and Trust (HIT). We become substandard and unworthy to be called marketers if we do deceptive practices.

For the fun of it, put the first letter in substandard (S) in front of the elements of good value (HIT) and you will find out the messy position you can be in if you lie.

It is true that figures don’t lie but liars can figure and it is easy to deceive but there is no real winner. Indeed, in 1983, I had a book of my poems published titled “VIEW” and one of the poems in it is called SOUL FREE. One verse goes like this:

If 6 was the same as 9, we would not need to choose.                                                              You may trick me and win, when you trick love you lose.

You may read the full poem in my blog called ” Slices of Love”: Simply click “Slices of love”.

Clifton “NOTCLIF” Neil is a “blonger” (blogs long), chartered marketer and university lecturer in marketing. Contact at cneil@wordfoodmusic.com. 

WFM logo_concepts coloured orihinal 2 label purpose

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