Marketers often have to come up with creative ways to gain a competitive advantage and sell T.S.O.C.—the same old crap. This requires repackaging common ingredients and giving them new (and newly trademarked) names and identities. Are they insulting our intelligence with their duplicity or does this type of marketing really work? If you’ve purchased the following products, you may have to side with the latter.
Bifidus Regularis and Bifidus Immunis
Probiotics are the new the cure-all craze. If you believe some food labels, they can solve everything from bad digestion to acne to obesity to a bad attitude. To help further their health claims, the marketing team at Dannon, which makes Activia, took things a step further. Banking on the power of suggestion, they came up with new names for two strains of bacteria found in their yogurt: bifidus regularis, which supposedly helps regulate your digestive system and L. casei immunitas, which, you guessed it, supposedly strengthens your immune system. Probiotics may have some benefits, but most yogurts contain them—the reason why there is a class action lawsuit accusing Dannon of a false advertising campaign promoting the benefits of their yogurt over others. The suit charges that the claims merely convince consumers to pay more. But how else would the marketing team get paid?
With all the fuss Certs made about its fabulously unique ingredient—Retsyn—which none of the other lowly breath mints contain, one would assume it was damn worth it. But alas, a few investigative clicks yields an ingredient list for Retsyn that is less spectacular and more mundane: copper gluconate (the green specks), hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and flavoring. There is no such chemical as Retsyn—it’s a mere conglomerate of every day ingredients.
Scope is the only mouthwash that contains T25 breath fresheners. What, exactly, does this mean? The ambiguous letter/number ingredient would make one assume that it’s a highly sophisticated chemical that rids you of your lingering halitosis for good. But, reading the ingredient list reveals that T25 is a piece of made-up marketing—there is no new compound, merely a trademarked blend of breath fresheners. A bit like pushing the peas around on the plate to make it seem like something new has happened.
Quadratein™—sounds serious, huh?
It’s not hard to figure out why the makers of Snickers Marathon Bar named their proprietary blend of non-proprietary ingredients “Quadratein.” The word calls to mind those big leg muscles needed to run 26.2 miles, or the protein building blocks of those muscles. However, there is nothing unique about their trademarked compound—it’s simply a mix of protein found in milk and soy, mixed with some peanut flour—nothin’ new there. Their real marketing “genius,” however, came with the introduction of the oxymoronic “low-carb” marathon bar—a true feat of duplicity. Has anyone at Snicker’s ever run a marathon? You need those carbs!
PC-SPES is an herbal supplement that many men are familiar with—it supposedly reduces the chances of getting prostate cancer. Advertised as a pure herbal blend, it and another supplement, SPES, were later found to be laced with prescription drugs—including estrogens, painkillers, and blood thinners. Similarly, some sexual performance-enhancing “herbal” remedies like Stamina-RX and Vigor-25, actually contain dangerous levels of erectile dysfunction prescription drugs in them; others have been found to contain testosterone and estradiols. The FDA doesn’t monitor herbal supplements so it makes the marketing easy—put anything you want in there!
Taurine isn’t a made up ingredient—it is actually found in nature—but every claim about its ability to make you strong like a bull is basically bunk. The non-necessary amino acid is widely found in the human body; dietary sources include fish and meat. Red Bull seized the idea that taurine—from the Latin taurus, meaning bull—can somehow increase energy; other energy drinks have followed suit and added it to their products. Most likely, any energy that these beverages impart is from caffeine. It’s unclear how much of the taurine in dietary sources reaches the brain and recent research indicates it acts more like a sedative—not a stimulant—when it’s there.
I’ve yet to see this on a food label, but coming soon, Pinnothin, as you might’ve guessed, will be marketed as a weight loss aid/supplement/or nutraceutical. The evidence for its ability to help people eat less, like most claims from big food companies, comes from a small industry-sponsored study that came up with industry positive results. Taken thirty minutes before a meal, it reduced food intake by 9 percent (not statistically significant, so it could have occurred by chance). But what exactly is this miraculous new chemical or compound? Pine nut oil.
Green Tea Everything
Green tea is as old as dirt, but drink companies just recently realized how to make the ancient liquid trendy (usually by putting it in a mint-green, Asian-inspired package and adding high fructose corn syrup or the words “low carb” to the front). By extracting the good stuff, green tea drinks claim to burn calories (as in the Enviga drink), or antioxidant the hell out of your entire body, or boost immune system, or … do whatever it takes so you will buy their product rather than just brew a cup of tea.
Given the competitive nature of product marketing, there is no doubt we will continue to be assaulted with an endless stream of “new,” or newly discovered, ingredients designed to make old products seem healthier, better, or sexier. The question is: do we buy it?
Updated September 1, 2009