Understanding Marketing Impacts

-- Tips from our experts

Download the document as a .pdf

One of the key challenges to overall health is being able to sort through the marketing that companies use to try and sell food products. Much of this gets muddled in obscure terms or unsubstantiated new scientific discoveries making it hard for consumers to separate fact from folklore. Companies know that today’s consumer is more health conscious and internet savvy so they continue to increase their marketing budgets and evolve their campaign effectiveness to try and stay ahead. 

During the 80s one of the big selling pitches was ‘Vitamin C’. Companies were adding ascorbic acid to everything just to be able to claim it had a full day supply of vitamin C. Moms were given a false sense of security thinking their children were getting a full day supply because the focus was only on the amount of ascorbic acid added, not the absorption rate which could be generally much lower depending on the composition of the food. Through the 90s the marketing focus shifted to ‘antioxidants’ after the discovery of the effects of free radicals. Through 2000 everything became 'fat free' to help sell more food items. Even though all that meant was high in sugar which just turns to fat anyway if it isn't burned as energy. Today the new buzz is around probiotics. One of our researchers took a picture of the yogurt section at a large grocery store chain in Peru and across rows of all of the yogurt containers it had big words ‘PROBIOTICOS’. They don’t even bother being subtle any more. They know that most consumers have no idea what probiotics are. This leaves a gray area for companies to use scientific sounding terms to try and sell products.


The interesting thing is that despite all of these marketing claims about how healthy these food items will make us, many Americans (and more recently people from all countries around the World) are the unhealthiest of any generation. Something doesn’t add up.


Part of the problem is the large gap between how goods are marketed and the quality of what is actually purchased. Let’s take an example with antioxidants. All plants, seeds, leaves or other organic structures that get their energy from the sun have antioxidants. Once it was determined that we benefit from eating them because they help against free radical damage, it opened the door for companies to start claiming all sorts of goods were now ‘healthy’. This was especially convenient for products that may have been lagging behind other product lines in overall sales, such as red wine (based on a grape) and dark chocolate (based on a cocoa seed). All of a sudden companies could start claiming that these products were good for you and sales jumped as a result.


In truth the cocoa bean that grows in the cocoa pod has anti-oxidants as almost all seeds do. But it is a long way from the cocoa seed growing in the amazon to the final processed, sugar-laced product that rolls off of factory lines by the thousands every day.
Many of the claims are taken out of context specific to the science or are sponsored by experts through programs funded directly by the company. This it makes it even more difficult to know what information is objective and what is biased. Because of this and the history many companies have of making false claims based on scientific jargon, we have found the best tactic is to completely ignore food marketing. Read the labels on everything and focus on simplicity and common sense. If a packaged item has a list of ingredients you cannot pronounce then they are probably not good for you. If it says something is 'modified', such as modified starch, you can assume it was modified not to your health benefit, but to the benefit of the manufacturer to cut a cost. Anything that comes packaged has been tampered with in some way. Being able to rely on common sense to know to what extent is part of the secret to long term health.