It is always rough to find a compelling claim for advertising. But what happens when you have a compelling and legitimate claim that people just don’t believe?

A long time ago, I worked on Tang instant beverage in the United States.  It was a product that was virtually 100% natural.  There were two minor chemicals added to the product, acetaldehyde and ethyl butyrate, which were the volatile aromas you smell when you break the orange’s skin. They represented less than 1% of the product.  That meant that we could make a claim that the product was 99%+ natural.

Yet when we tested the claim that the product was 99%+ natural, consumers refused to believe it.

Why?  Tang looked like it was mostly sugar and because people thought sugar wasn’t natural they found the claim wasn’t believable.  While sugar is certainly natural, perhaps people confused processing with naturalness.

The same has happened for other products, such as coffee.  Many people don’t see coffee as a natural product because it contains caffeine.  And of course, if you remove the caffeine the product is really adulterated and even less natural.

So if a claim is not believable, even if it is true, what then?

How about claims that are suggested but not made.  Could we be guilty then, if we only play off of current prejudices?

For years we advertised Subway products by saying “Eat Fresh.”  Calexis got this approved to use in Canada by including a super “Prepared Fresh” which is always tehre but no one really sees.  People conclude that Subway food is fresher.  But is it?  It is hard to argue that products like processed meats, cold cuts, cheeses, pickles, etc. are ever fresh.  And are they less or more fresh than a never frozen meat patty that is hot off the grill?  But the human mind skips over these inconsistencies.

A recent Supreme court decision ruled that advertisers cannot mislead by suggestion, even if they do not precisely make a claim.  But using the letter of the law, we argued that fresh preparation was what we were describing for Subway, not fresh ingredients.  Thanks to the halo effect of “Fresh” we moved Subway’s business forward incredibly during our more than ten years working with them.

Negotiating the fine legal line to what you can and cannot say is a constant problem in advertising.  While the industry gets accused of deception, by and large agency professionals operate well within the limits imposed by client lawyers and government clearance processes.  Since lawyers are approving all the copy these days, listen carefully to precisely what is being said – no matter what the overall impression is.  Lawyers live in the details.

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