Tuesday, February 15

Putting Accuracy First

When I teach Writing for Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), one of the first lessons I share with my students is that great writing is accurate, clear, concise, human, and conspicuous. And there is a very good reason that accurate is at the front of the list.

Recently, Johnson & Johnson faced a lawsuit over its marketing campaign for Splenda, which is an artificial sweetener. Part of the campaign's success has been attributed to the copyline "Splenda No Calorie Sweetener is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." Or is it? According to the Sugar Association, Splenda is an artificial chemical sweetener that does not contain sugar. It is made by converting sugar into no calorie, noncarbohydrate sweetener. The patented process selectively replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.

The Sugar Association says the marketing pitch does not accurately reflect the end product and is misleading because it gives the impression that Splenda contains natural sugar (and is a natural product). Possibly, but I'm not entirely convinced. Yes, Splenda's copyline might have been more precise had it said "Splenda No Calorie Sweetener starts with sugar so it tastes like sugar,” but to conclude it is a natural product that contains sugar based on the aforementioned copyline would require the reader to infer a message that does not exist.

Still, regardless of the outcome, this case demonstrates why accuracy is so important. It's never enough, even in advertising, to simply be clever. Unless, of course, your client does not mind the occasional lawsuit.

2 comments:

city rocker on 2/18/05, 2:27 PM said...

It's sad that most Americans are not intelligent enough to understand chemistry-related concepts and processes. Fortunately, though it's not entirely natural, Splenda is much healthier to consume than other sugar replacements like aspartamene, which is known to cause cancer. Plus, the Splenda ads are just so cute. Maybe the Sugar Association (har) should give them a break. By the way, nice site.

Rich on 2/22/05, 11:43 AM said...

Thank you for the compliment. I'm looking forward to adding more content once I can set aside some dedicated time, perhaps once a week.

Personally, while I would never expect consumers to research the chemical processes of the products they eat, I have always found it amusing that manufacturers put real effort into defining certain terms (eg. natural vs. naturally) that most consumers will never learn anyway.

I also agree that the Sugar Association might consider evaluating and then investing in its own marketing efforts rather than a lawsuit. That seems to be the challenge: a natural product continues to lose ground against artificial sweeteners.

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