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I’m going to be really upfront: I am not an anti-marketer. In fact, I make my living as a marketer. I think marketing is the most strategically critical function a business has. But, sometimes marketers do some pretty sleazy things! The food industry in particular really gets my goat. Here are 5 ways that you may be getting tricked by foodie Don Drapers.

1. They make the product name sound healthy

Who wouldn’t be enticed by a Healthy Start Breakfast Sandwich? Why, that sounds like the ideal way to start my day! What about some Vita-Water? That must be packed full of vitamins! The truth is that the product name often has nothing to do with the actual product. And, since the name is the first thing you see, it may cloud your judgement even if you do look at the ingredients and nutritional information.

2. They only talk about one ingredient (part 1)

I see this one all the time. The company will talk about their “all natural protein blend.” This “blend” is made from all natural sources, has no genetically modified ingredients, etc. People see this and then think that all the ingredients have those same features. In reality, they are only claiming that first ingredient has those characteristics. Turn the package over, look at the “non medicinal” or “other” ingredients and you’ll often find things that you’ll be unable to pronounce or identify (which probably isn’t a good thing!).

3. They only talk about one ingredient (part 2)

Made with whole grains! To make this type of statement, the identified ingredient is there. But, the product may contain less of it that you’d think. There could also be plain old white flour in that whole grain food! You may or may not know this, but companies list the ingredients in order of quantity. So, whatever ingredient is listed first is the most abundant in the food. It something is listed last, there’s practically none of it there.

4. They focus on the positive even if they’re outweighed by the negative

Ever see a claim about no trans fat? There may be no trans fat, but what’s the sodium content? Or how something is low in calories? Yeah, but the serving size is basically a crumb! If something “tastes great!” you may want to look at the sugar content.

5. They make claims about fiber

Hey, fiber is great! It’s keeps you regular, makes you feel full, and is generally good. But isn’t it important to know where that fiber is coming from? From fruits and veggies? From whole grains? That would be good. What if it’s from cellulose? What’s that you may ask? Cellulose is basically sawdust. Yup, sawdust. It gets added in because it provides volume and fiber to food. But, it’s indigestible by humans. In other words, it has a benefit to the food company, but no benefit at all to you!

Knowledge is power!

Okay, now you know some of the tricks. Use this knowledge! Look at the names and claims with a critical eye. Look at the ingredients (and their order). Check out the nutritional information including serving size. Look past just calories to see how much sodium is there. And, please stop eating sawdust!

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