EnviroMedia just conducted a new marketing watchdog survey that reveals which food ad lingo shoppers are falling for most. “Whole grains” is the top phrase luring health conscious consumers, followed by “natural,” “healthy” and “light.” Nearly 8 out of 10 people surveyed said they’ve purchased a food product because “whole grains” appeared on the packaging or in ads. Sixty-eight percent said they’ve fallen for “natural.”
“The not-so-secret secret is that these words people are basing their buying on often don’t mean anything,” said EnviroMedia Social Marketing President Kevin Tuerff, co-creator of the Leanwashing Index℠. “When the words can’t be backed up, it’s called leanwashing.”
The Food Labeling Modernization Act, introduced this fall, calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to define “whole grains,” “natural,” “healthy” — and more. The bill, though unlikely to make it through Congress, is another piece of evidence that consumers are fed up.
Tuerff released the survey results at the first Leanwashing Forum, which was cohosted by EnviroMedia and the University of Texas Advertising and Public Relations department. Panelists included Stephen Gardner, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); Bruce Bradley, blogger and food advocate; and Dr. Stephen Pont, Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity. Panelists also included Dr. Lucy Atkinson, Dr. Kate Pounders, and Dr. Brad Love from the UT Advertising and Public Relations department.
The new leanwashing survey puts responsibility for reducing misleading health claims on the FDA, with 70 percent of those surveyed saying it’s the FDA’s job. Just 9 percent think it’s consumers’ responsibility to enforce honesty in marketing, and 7 percent say we should rely on the food industry to voluntarily stop making false health claims.
CSPI’s Stephen Gardner, director of litigation, is using a different approach: “Private litigation is very, very successful. CSPI had been asking companies nicely to do things for years, decades. Then we started suing them over it. They suddenly decided to get more reasonable.”
The forum grew from LeanwashingIndex.com, a public service website that asks consumers to post food and fitness ads while rating the ads’ authenticity. The leanwashing scoring scale ranges from “1” (authentic), to “3” (suspect), to “5” (bogus).
The forum’s audience, composed primarily of advertising students and health advocates, reviewed ads from the Leanwashing Index and voted electronically on the ads’ honesty. The Chipotle “Scarecrow” ad, promoting that restaurant chain’s conscientious food sourcing, was seen as “authentic” by 39 percent of the audience. Forty-two percent called the video “suspect.” Just 19 percent voted the video “bogus,” but panelists criticized the campaign for implying that burritos that can top 1,000 calories are a better fast food choice.
In another audience review, a Cheerios ad received a 42 percent “bogus” rating for its use of “whole grains” and for tying those words to weight loss.
QuickTake.com conducted The EnviroMedia Leanwashing Poll Oct. 15, 2013, using an online scientific sample of 310 Americans, ages 18-88.