Friday, December 18, 2015

Buzzwords and Endorsements

Good news for advertisers!  They don’t have to present us with facts or evidence.  They don’t even have to tell us about benefits.  By just relying on buzzwords and endorsements, they get our business.  Sometimes though, it just doesn’t work out well for the advertisers or for the customers.

Buzzwords, which I have also referred to as trigger words, are those words that we have been taught through endless repetition to believe are good, wholesome and healthy.  They are words like all-natural, gluten-free, ancient wisdom, holistic, herbal, alternative, organic and others.  The objective is to create a kind of favorable, knee-jerk response among customers.

For several years Chipotle has been doing this by promoting their commitment to better ingredients—including meat raised without antibiotics, pasture-raised dairy, and local and organically grown produce.  Rather than address each of these premises, let’s turn to recent news about corporate apologies after numerous problems.  Health officials closed one location in Seattle last week, citing “repeated food safety violations within the past year.”  This came not too long after an “outbreak of norovirus at a restaurant near Boston College sickened 141 people. In addition, a widespread E. coli outbreak linked to the chain has sickened 52 people across nine states, including 27 people in Washington State.”  The Wall Street Journal reports:  “Chipotle has experienced five disease outbreaks since July, including a salmonella outbreak involving tomatoes that sickened 64 people in Minnesota.”

In this case it was the locally grown produce used as a buzzword to lure us in, but now they are moving to reduce the uses of those local sources and increase centralized preparation of some vegetables in the interest of food safety.  This centralization comes after already changing their definition of locally grown from farms within about 200 miles of its restaurants to those within 350 miles.

I know locally grown food tastes better.  That’s why I have a garden in my backyard every summer; but when I go to a restaurant, especially a fast food restaurant, I am willing to trade off the little bit better taste for uncontaminated vegetables.

But when advertisers can’t attract us with buzzwords alone, why not add celebrity endorsements?  That always works.

Wen shampoo and conditioner had all that.  Endorsements came from Brooke Shields, Angie Harmon, Ming Na-Wen and others.  CBS news explains that they were “advertised online or on TV as a type of miracle for hair, promising to make it healthier than ever. Instead, the plaintiffs [in a class action lawsuit] claim a litany of problems, ranging from scalp irritation to extreme hair loss.”

How can a miracle in a bottle cause all those problems?  Many studies have shown that the expensive beauty products are little, if at all, better than the common brands, yet people are suckers for these kinds of promises and promotions.  One customer, after learning the hard way, posted on Amazon, "Please don't be fooled by commercials and the paid actresses."

Do we really stand a chance?  As advertisers work every day with focus groups and psychological testing to determine just the right way to cut through our resistance and sometimes our common sense, how can we resist and make good, rational decisions?  Critical thinking and perspective play a role here.  Food can be natural and organic, but nicotine is natural.  We should be careful, but sometimes we go overboard trying to be so careful and correct without understanding the real benefits and dangers that it backfires.  Likewise, there is no miracle for your hair.  Who are you trying to impress?  And if they don’t like you because of your hair, are they worth the effort?

Most of life can be happily led in the middle of the extremes.  Good enough is often good enough – and a whole lot easier, less problematic and less expensive.

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