The nature and basis of the capitalist system is a competitive market. Manufacturers produce what the market wants and buyers respond.
Sometimes industry reverse-engineers to create a market for a product. The term “marketing” is thereby born.
As when you tailor a resume for a particular job and highlight or embellish certain aspects of your education or experience, companies’ advertising sometimes extends the truth or uses language as a tool to manipulate perception.
This is why there are laws in the United States to protect consumers from false or misleading advertising. Sometimes companies get caught at their embellishments and are forced to change their marketing through the legal system. Here are some biggies of the last decade—reminders that we have to be constantly diligent and look out for our own well-being; big business and government aren’t always in a position to do so.
1. Activia and DanActive Yogurt
Products of yogurt giant Dannon, Activia and DanActive were advertised as “clinically” and “scientifically” proven to do all sorts of wonderful things for you and was therefore worth their premium price. Ahem. As a fermented milk product, all true yogurt has the same nutritional components of vitamin D, calcium, and protein in addition to helpful digestive bacteria. A class action lawsuit was settled in 2010 that required Dannon to pay $45 million in damages and to remove these and other misleading words from its labels. 
2. Airborne Herbal Supplement
Touted as a super-supplement that “boosts the immune system with seven herbal extracts and a proprietary blend of vitamins, electrolytes, amino acids and antioxidants” and so able to effectively ward off colds and flu, it turned out that Airborne was a multi-vitamin—nothing more. The purported scientific studies weren’t performed by qualified scientists but by people with no related credentials. The company paid a $23.3 million settlement in 2008 that was managed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit organization. 
3. Eclipse Gum
Wrigley gum marketed varieties of its Eclipse brand as effectively killing bacteria that cause bad breath. While it (of course) didn’t admit any wrong-doing, the company agreed to pay $6 million to a settlement fund and remove the misleading claims from packaging. The studies performed to enable such claims in the first place were flawed and not scientifically executed. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys expressed the motivation behind the suit:
“Today, a lot of consumers are looking for foods and products to help improve their health, their aesthetics and help them live longer, and we want to make sure that companies have substantiation for the claims that they’re making.” 
A sensitive topic, this brand of male reproductive organ enhancer boasted, “A capsule that can make a man larger…scientifically proven to increase the size of a certain part of the male body.” Founded on neither scientific evidence nor any proven fact, the company settled the false advertising claim and has dampened its promises—it is now simply a male pleasure-enhancement supplement and comes with a money-back guarantee. What’s in it? Looks like an herbal blend with a couple of “male prohormone” ingredients. Be wary of anything that says it will do what men for millennia have tried to do.
Owned by Kellogg (which should have been cause for suspicion in the first place), Kashi has agreed to remove the words “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some of its product labelling. Some of the ingredients listed were actually synthetic compounds and not natural nutritional sources. Kellogg won’t disclose which of the products have been targeted. Even those foods that portend to be organic, natural, healthy, or free from artificial ingredients have a way of circumventing laws and socially-accepted morês:
“The Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has not developed a definition for the use of the word ‘natural’ on food products. ‘However,’ the FDA says on its website, ‘the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.’” 
6. Rice Krispies and Frosted Mini-Wheats
Kellogg had to answer to the Federal Trade Commission in regard to its advertising for Rice Krispies and Frosted Mini-Wheats cereals (are we seeing a pattern here?). The cereal conglomerate was ordered to cease all advertising purporting “support of child’s immunity” with its added vitamins, antioxidants, and “nutrients” in Rice Krispies and “improved attentiveness” from Frosted Mini-Wheats.  In any case, these cereals have way too much added sugar to be of any nutritional value whatsoever and are, in fact, detrimental to children’s health because of it.
Interestingly, the Sugar Association sued Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Splenda (its brand name for sucralose), due to its advertising that it is a natural sugar derivative. That is true if you apply the reasoning of adding chlorine to sucrose (sugar) to make sucralose. The details of the settlement haven’t been disclosed but Splenda has changed its slogan. Health concerns aside, if a new product says it’s like something else, proceed with caution.
8. Taco Bell “Seasoned” Beef
In perhaps the most good-natured and honest approach to a legal challenge, Taco Bell took out a full-page newspaper ad informing and thanking plaintiffs contesting its advertised “seasoned” ground beef. The beef in the recipe comprises only 35 percent; the rest (“seasoning”) includes items unrelated to beef: added salt, sugar, oats, cellulose, soy lecithin, and corn starch, among others. Publishing the full list on its website, the fast food corporation (owned by PepsiCo) took responsibility. Given its willingness to provide transparency, the suit was dropped.
There is no shortage of reminders that you can’t believe everything you read.
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