Are All Marketers Liars?

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Truth in Advertising by Tom Fishburne

In his 2005 bestseller Seth Godin proclaimed All Marketers Are Liars. It didn’t take long for Mr. Godin to admit that he was lying:

I wasn’t being completely truthful with you when I named this book. Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers…

At the time Mr. Godin’s book was released, I was working in the heart of Big Food launching a new “yogurt”-coated cereal. I didn’t feel like I was lying—maybe pushing boundaries, but definitely not lying.

Recently I was reminded of those days while watching this ad for Quaker’s new Yogurt Granola Bars:

Did you catch Quaker’s claims and tagline? Here are the highlights:

    • “They’re whole grain good, and yummy good.”
    • Real fruit pieces
    • 12g of whole grains
    • Creamy yogurt coating
    • Tagline: “Treat Yourself Good”

So what do you think? Is Quaker lying? Well, while selling all the wonderful taste and whole grain aspects of their new yogurt granola bar, they’re definitely leanwashing some very unhealthy details from the ingredient label:

    • 11 g of sugar from a vast variety of sources. If all these sugars were listed together on the ingredient label, I suspect “sugars” might be the first ingredient for these bars.
    • A yogurt coating that is yogurt in name only. These coatings use highly processed, shelf-stable dairy ingredients (most likely from cows treated with growth hormones) and flavors to imitate the taste of yogurt. The truth is, these coatings are all sugar and fat, and have no active cultures and none of the probiotic benefits of yogurt.
    • 4.5g of fat of which 2.5g are saturated fats
    • GMOs from genetically modified soy, corn, and sugar
    • Preservatives (BHT) and artificial colors
    • Palm kernel and palm oils which are often harvested unsustainably, resulting in deforestation and reduction of critical habitats

So what’s so good about Quaker’s Yogurt Granola bars? Well, there are 12g of whole grain, but is that enough to make a food item good for you? Even Lucky Charms Treats have whole grains, but are they healthy? In fact, guess what? In a side-by-side comparison with Lucky Charms Treats, the venerable Quaker man comes up short vs. the little leprechaun:

So what’s with all the marketing madness of whole grains? Just because whole grains are healthy, doesn’t mean foods that contain whole grains are always good for you. As I pointed out in a recent Prevention.com interview:

…if I make a cake out of whole grain flour, it’s still a cake. It may be a little bit better for me than a regular cake, but it’s still cake.

All this whole-grain nonsense is reminiscent of the rationale behind the FDA’s “jelly bean rule”—a 1994 provision enacted to stop food companies from making erroneous health claims. When the contents of snack bars, cereals, and cookies are 30-50% sugar, but they still flaunt “whole grains” as a means to claim a healthier status in the minds of consumers, it’s very misleading. Don’t believe me? Then stay tuned for my next couple of posts where I’ll expose more of Quaker’s whole grain deception.

So is Seth Godin right? Are All Marketers Liars? I don’t think so, but unfortunately most of Big Food’s “storytelling” is far from the truth. So, I’m trying to change the conversation about food by blogging about the tricks, traps, and tools Big Food uses to get people eating more processed food. I’m also hopeful that my novel, Fat Profits, will get more and more people asking the crucial question, “Do I really know what’s in my food?” However, to get this done, I need your help spreading the word about my blog and Fat Profits. So, if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it on your Facebook wall, tweet about it, Pin it, or email it to a friend. And if you’re interested in learning more about Fat Profits or sharing it with someone who loves thrillers, you can visit my book’s website here.

As always, thanks for reading my blog. If you’re new to my blog, and you’d like to learn more inside scoop on the world of food, please subscribe here.

11 comments… add one

  • Nancy-The Frugal Dietitian September 17, 2012, 6:20 am

    As always an excellent post. Enjoyed your book Fat Profits!! I will be passing it on.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley September 17, 2012, 9:20 am

      Thanks, Nancy. I’m so glad you enjoyed Fat Profits. And thanks so much for spreading the news about it! Word of mouth is the main way people learn about books!

      Thanks again,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Suzy September 17, 2012, 7:29 am

    Great post. I used to teach a class to 2nd graders about food marketing and used the term “tricks”. Our in house marketer did not like that we used that word. She did not think it was trickery and fought for us to change it. But even when we did not use it, the 8-year-olds we were teaching would get so mad and say “they are lying and tricking us!”

    I just started following you on Pinterest!

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley September 17, 2012, 9:33 am

      Thanks, Suzy. Glad you enjoyed my post. I think over the years the level of trickery has increased dramatically. Twenty years ago a sugar cereal didn’t pretend to be anything else but a sugared cereal. These days, cereals, cookies, crackers, and “energy” bars pretend to be healthy when in fact, they are no better than a dessert or indulgence item. Getting the word out and letting people know they shouldn’t be fooled is crucial if we’re going to stand a chance of improving our collective diet.

      Thanks again for your comment, and glad you found me on Pinterest!

      Reply
  • Jennifer September 17, 2012, 10:59 am

    as always, great post.
    it never ceases to amaze me how simply oblivious people are to what goes on with our food supply…. its deeper than sneaky ‘marketing’; altho that might have started it all…. after all… if folks will buy and believe blatent obvious BS coming from the companies mouths in order to sell their products its more than likely they won’t dig any deeper and see whatall sort of crap is wrong with the initial ingredients to begin with!!!
    :-/

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley September 17, 2012, 11:06 am

      Thanks, Jennifer. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Unfortunately most people don’t approach the food they eat with a watchful eye. Stressed out and overworked many people use food to comfort or “treat” themselves. Even if they are “watching what they eat,” they readily believe the “fables” food marketers throw their way. It’s only after years of acting this way that the lies pile up with added pounds and a whole host of health and self-esteem issues that come with the weight.

      Thanks again for visiting my blog. I look forward to hearing more from you as we try to spread the word about REAL food!

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Todd September 20, 2012, 8:10 am

    If you listen closely, you’ll notice the commercial actually says its “a creamy yogurt flavored coating.” I guess they couldn’t even bring themselves to call it real yogurt. But there is no doubt they hope you overlook the “flavored” and just assume that its real yogurt.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley September 20, 2012, 9:13 am

      Hi Todd. Yes, you’re right. Legally they can’t call it yogurt coating since it’s not real yogurt. One of the many slight of hand moves Big Food uses when they advertise.

      Thanks for you comment!

      Reply
  • Alan Roettinger October 7, 2012, 2:17 pm

    Ethically speaking, you’re not lying if you don’t know that what you’re saying is untrue. It’s hard to believe that the individuals responsible for this kind of marketing don’t know they’re making things up, or that the assertions they make at the very least twist and misrepresent the truth. So, in my book, they are clearly lying, and they’re doing it because the truth would not sell their products. The result of their lying is that many people are consuming these harmful products because they believe them to be beneficial, and they’re unknowingly compromising their health. The producers of these unhealthy items are profiting from causing harm, and they’re accomplishing this by disseminating lies that play a direct, significant part in the high (and rising) cost of healthcare.

    Reply
  • Michelle October 22, 2012, 3:12 pm

    I know the commercial in question, they dont even say yogurt coating, they say “yogurt flavored.”

    Despite abandoning the “foods” of the cereal and grain industry long ago, I still can’t help but be drawn to a great story about their shortcomings. Thanks for the great read.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 22, 2012, 3:14 pm

      Michelle:

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the post! Hope to see you visit again!

      Regards,
      Bruce

      Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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About Me:

Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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