On being ... pure, naturally filtered

By Ingrid Sapona

I often have the t.v. on, but I don’t often sit and watch it. Given my “viewing” habits, I don’t tend to see many commercials. But one did catch my eye recently. It’s for yogurt, thought I honestly couldn’t tell you which brand. The first thing about the commercial that I noticed was a clever graphic used in it, but that wasn’t the only thing about it that got me thinking.

The commercial starts with a woman in a bright yellow workout outfit eating yogurt. She has a nice figure (as you’d imagine) and her midriff is tastefully bare. (As opposed to distastefully bare, à la female singers in most music videos.) Then we see anther woman (a sister or roommate, I guess) staring at the first woman’s abs. The second woman asks the first what she’s eating. Then we see the first woman once again, but this time we see what the second woman apparently was looking at: the first woman’s midriff appears to be the center of an atom around which little electrons are orbiting.

The graphic is eye-catching and clearly we’re meant to think that what she’s eating has some kind of impact on her waist, helping to keep it trim and attractive. The woman names the brand and goes on to explain that it contains prebiotics and probiotics. The other woman clearly is impressed by the fact it contains these things (ingredients, I guess) and we’re left with the impression that we’d definitely benefit if we were eating that.

Though the little orbiting electrons caught my attention first, the claim that the yogurt contains BOTH prebiotics AND probiotics also made me take notice. Mind you, my reason for taking note is probably not quite what the yogurt manufacturer intended. My thoughts on hearing about inclusion of these ingredients was (in this order), “Am I supposed to know what these things are?”, and “Who cares?”

Since becoming aware of that particular commercial, I’ve noticed other foods advertised as including some sort of “biotic” (whether it’s “pre-“, “pro”, “post” or “peri” -- wait a second, maybe those last two come up in relation to menopause, not food – I’m not sure…). Without fail, every time such terms come up I feel stupid because I think maybe I should know what they are -- and yet, I can’t be bothered to find out because they just seem like, well, gimmicks.

Anyway, I didn’t really give the commercial (or others like it) any serious thought until yesterday when I heard a news story about Health Canada issuing a statement saying the health claims touted by companies whose products include certain types of ingredients (and probiotics were specifically mentioned) were not proven. Whoa, I thought, if the government feels the need to comment, I guess not everyone is quite as dismissive as I am about such claims.

Health Canada’s announcement made me think of another news story from late last year about a Canadian yoga wear maker that apparently has a line of clothing that’s made of “eco-friendly fabrics”. What’s that? You’ve never heard of such material? Join the club!

But the “news” surrounding this company’s line of clothes wasn’t just about its use of eco-friendly fabrics. The news story had to do with the fact that the manufacturer was making claims about health benefits attributable to the fabric. Apparently, the company claimed the seaweed fibre in the fabric helps reduce stress and provides anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, hydrating and detoxifying benefits.

Canada’s Competition Bureau ended up investigating these claims and determined they had not been proven and asked the company to stop advertising the alleged benefits. (The story of how these claims came to the government’s attention is a soap opera in itself and involved an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that was prompted by an investor who stood to make lots of money if the company’s share prices fell. But that’s another story…)

I don’t know if it’s because I’m just not particularly susceptible to advertising, or if it’s because I was born a skeptic, but I pretty much summarily disregard health benefit claims made in ads. If anything, such claims tend to turn me off -- either because they make me feel stupid or because I just think it’s all a bunch of hooey.

Call me stuck in the 20th century, but I still make most of my purchasing decisions based on pretty every-day things. That means I choose a yogurt because I like how it tastes, and I choose workout clothes based on whether they’re comfortable and how I think I’ll look in them when sweaty.

I realize this probably makes me sound like a rather unsophisticated consumer. Hmmm… how can I make that sound better? What words might a clever advertiser use to describe me and folks like me? Oh, I know, how about this: We’re not simple or non-discriminating -- far from it -- we’re part of that (apparently) small coterie of buyers with a fine tuned, natural hype filter.

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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