Marketing tactics for big companies differ quite substantially compared to marketing techniques for small businesses. Although many consumers are already cautious of claims made by big league advertisers, some specific terms or phrases should be considered even more carefully before making a purchase. These are typically claims that have either no clear meaning or are not easily enforced by legislation. This in turn leads advertisers to use these terms and phrases in order to create hype for their products - hype which could at times be considered false or over exaggerated.
When a product is sold as "light," many people typically assume that this means the product is lower in fat or calories than other comparable products. However, marketers enjoy terms like this that have many different meanings. Is the product light-tasting? Is it light in color? Or is this product light in flavor? Sensory characteristics can be tough to measure, so there is no easy way to empirically determine if these statements are true. Though many regulatory bodies relating to food labeling may have regulations relating to the use of this term, especially as it pertains to health-related claims, advertisers still find ways to use this word in an advantageous way.
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Products labeled as organic are not necessarily 100% organic. Though many products may include the word organic in their packaging or advertisements, this may not mean much. If organic products are important to you, it's best to educate yourself on the guidelines before you buy. Products labeled as "certified organic" or "USDA organic" have regulations that must be followed in order to be labeled as such.
What does natural mean? It certainly implies that only naturally-occurring substances would be found in the product you're purchasing. However, this is a term that's not regulated by the FDA, so advertisers are essentially given a license to use it at will. Virtually all convenience food products are subject to some kind of processing and the addition of preservatives, even if just to make them suitable for transport and storage on grocery shelves. Also, foods marked as "natural" are not necessarily healthier. The product may still contain plenty of naturally occurring ingredients that happen to be unhealthy. Just think of a product that has been deep-fried in all-natural cooking oil - it may not be loaded with preservatives, but it'll still be loaded with calories. This term is also commonly used to indicate that a product contains natural flavors, though you may well find that the product also contains artificial flavors when you check the ingredient listing.
New and Improved
When a product is marked as new, better or improved, it's implied that the product has been revised or improved upon in some way. Recently, the trend of going green has had marketers cashing in. Unless the manufacturer or retailer makes it apparent how the product has been improved or changed, it could be a relatively meaningless or exaggerated claim. Typically advertisers are forced to remove these sorts of claims after a period of time has passed. However, even during the allotted time in which marketers are allowed to make these claims, they may mean very little if they are difficult to prove.
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The term "free" can be used in two different ways in marketing claims. One way suggests that you're getting a product for free. When a store or manufacturer is offering a free product, it's important to recognize that the "free" toy packed inside the cereal box or the beach towel you'll get if you save up 10 UPC codes doesn't actually come without a cost. The price of the promotional item has been included in the purchase price of the product. This term is also used to suggest that a product is completely free of a certain chemical or ingredient, which may not be entirely true either. Products sold as "fat-free" may still contain a trace amount of fat. The amount of fat that's present in one serving size may be minimal, but the product may not actually be completely fat-free. Additionally, some products are sold as "99% fat-free," which looks really good on paper, but may not really translate into a significant health benefit since fats tend to be calorie-dense.
Many products make claims of the maximum amount you can save as a result of making a purchase. Examples include such things as "save up to 75% on your purchase" or "up to 33% better value than the leading competitor." These claims generally point to the best case scenario, and imply that you may not enjoy the significant savings advertisers are suggesting. Also, it's wise to be wary when advertisers are attaching statistical claims that compare their product to another. If an advertiser is promoting a characteristic that's not easily measured, it's wise to assume the statistic is based on an estimate, or perhaps even an exaggeration intended to get your attention.
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The Bottom Line
Marketers know which words get consumers' attention. When it comes to advertising, sometimes readers skip over the words that add little to the overall message, but these extra words are often included by marketers for a reason. Words like "more," "up to," or "better" are intentionally vague. Phrases like "fat free" or "whole grain" are intended to grab consumers' attention through playing upon the desire for better nutrition. Remember that advertisers are experts when it comes to helping consumers part with their hard-earned dollars. Companies invest huge amounts of time and money into creating effective marketing techniques that'll give their company an edge up on their competition - even if that means using some sneaky choices.
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