We live in a name-brand society. Whether it’s the water we drink, the food we eat or the drugs we take, ads assail us from every direction. And they work – often unconsciously. Otherwise, why would millions be spent on holiday shopping campaigns and 30-second Super Bowl spots?
But do you really want to be a slave to your unconscious, especially in matters of health? Here are a few tips that will assist in determining if branding is helping you or hiding something from view.
Know your product classes
Sometimes generic products really don’t measure up to a brand-name alternative. Take food products. Who hasn’t bought a generic Pop-Tart® only to be disappointed by the experience?
But take care in extrapolating that principle of generic inferiority to other types of products. For example, Lipitor®. The generic version is called atorvastatin, and must demonstrate that it works the same as Lipitor® in order to gain FDA approval. This is called bioequivalence. Bioequivalence means you can be relatively certain that generic drugs will have the same effect as the brand-name alternative, despite the reduced cost. Different principles apply to different types of products.
Generally, if a generic drug is dispensed from behind the pharmacy counter, the FDA has approved it. However, this doesn’t hold for stuff on the shelves in the rest of a drugstore.
Brand names are like costumes
Take AminoSweet®. Sounds new and innocuous, right. Well, like Nutrasweet® and Equal® before it, AminoSweet® is really just aspartame’s new brand name. Consider it an attempted makeover. It’s as if all of aspartame’s Facebook friends started dumping aspartame, so the company decided to create a new account with the screen name “Sparta.”
Why the intrigue? Well some consider aspartame poison1, 2, 3, 4, even though others contend it’s proven safe (EFSA, FDA5,6). Safe or not, aspartame has an image problem, and that problematic image may be useful for some. Others may wish to consider research suggesting that calorie-free sweetness may be worse for the body than full-calorie sugar, despite common belief.7,8,9
Like the Wizard of Oz, brand images can be carefully crafted illusions. Don’t take them at face value. Check behind the curtain.
Avoid Label Shame
Labels can be a great source of information, but you may just have to work to find the info. A brand-name ingredient may be featured prominently on the front of the label, with its true identity hidden on the back. Like old contracts, the most useful information on labels may be in the smallest print.
Labels also tend to be a source of confusion. If you run into ingredients you don’t recognize, don’t fret. You are not alone. A recent Harris Interactive Poll10 concerning artificial sweeteners makes this apparent. Don’t be ashamed, educate yourself. A quick internet search can often lend some insight.
Or if you’d rather see more/different information appear on product labels, get involved. Labeling legislation is constantly being reviewed, argued and changed. For instance, the Sugar Association’s Artificial Sweetener Labeling Initiative11 seeks to have the true identity of all artificial sweeteners listed on the front of packages.
Brand knowledge: get educators
Learn product differentiators. Know ingredients. Read labels. Educate yourself. Then decide whether a brand message is beneficial or bull.
And if you are now suddenly craving a Pop-Tart, be extra careful with brand messages and your unconscious.
In HealthThink on WellWise.org, I ruminate on all thoughts health especially as they intersect with dietary supplements. How do we really think about health [when we’re healthy]? And what does our behavior belie about how we think about health? Aside from the general rule that applies to the entire blogosphere – never believe what you read in a blog – here are two tenets for this blog: 1) spending your good time reading entitles you to comment/complain about HealthThink and 2) if you complain/comment do not be surprised to see your ideas or words appear in said blog. If you complain/comment using words in the spirit of this wordsmithing hit, you’ll get extra credit. A blog with rules and extra credit: fantastic.