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What’s in a name? Or should I say, what’s in a claim?

These days, American consumers are bringing a less-is-more attitude to the brands they engage with. Whether it’s an ingredient, term, claim, or process, we as humans are more cognizant about the environmental, bodily and (gasp!) marketing implications of our favorite products.

People don’t have (or want) to take the time to research what triethanolamine (amino acid in cosmetics) or polytetrafluoroethylene (compound in makeup) are. They roll their eyes when we say 100% NATURAL. They scoff at “environmentally friendly.”

They don’t trust terminology anymore.

But what happens if you represent a client that does have these ingredients in their products? Or does make claims that are controversial today?

Here I take some of the hot button issues and offer suggestions for ways to navigate them:

  • 100% Natural: Gourmet Retailer EIC Anna Wolfe says natural “has become commonplace, and arguably overused and misused.” The hottest and most contested term in personal care and food marketing has no meaning. Literally. So your client wants to push 100% natural… what now? You define it. You explain it. You give your customers context so they don’t ignore you. For Prosciutto di Parma we always qualify it – it’s “additive and preservative free,” and “only made with two ingredients.” Although it takes up more space on a print ad, it’s worth the trust you build.

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  • Antibiotic, Cage and GMO Free: Most food-savvy (and non-food savvy) consumers are weary of these terms (as Jason Stemm pointed out recently), and as your customers become more interested in understanding where their food comes from, you need to be prepared. Know when to emphasize one in communications and de-emphasize another. Have issues statements ready at a moment’s notice, especially if you’re under pressure to leverage these claims despite not having any credence behind them. If you can stand by those terms, do the pre-work and proactively support your client’s commitment principles in your core messaging.
  • #1 _____________ Recommended: While U.S. News and World Report ranks personal care products according to pharmacist recommendations, Consumer Reports has challenged the notion of the physician recommendation claim as a term a brand can “buy.” My take? Know your consumer and understand if it’s a claim that truly matters. My client recently delved into research to understand where healthcare professionals fell among their buyer’s purchasing considerations. The answer will help us determine which channels to leverage the claim on and which aren’t worth it.
  • Sustainable Practices: Unless a brand has built (or plans to build) sustainability practices into its business model, it opens itself to insinuations of greenwashing. We never counsel a client to become involved with a CSR campaign in this arena unless it will become the air it breathes. Client nudging you to talk sustainability with media about a surface-level sponsorship deal? Push back and advise them it’s not worth their money or their reputation.

Are these the only hot topic terms combating marketers today? No, of course not. I’d need 5 more Buzz Bins to get through all them. However for now I recommend simply being smart about what’s worth supporting and what isn’t. Anticipate the best and the worst consequences, and, most importantly, know your consumer. If you’re sure that terminology is a major (positive) factor in their purchasing decisions, stick with it but be prepared for the haters.