It’s an interesting time in the public discourse around healthy eating. While the First Lady has made healthy eating her personal policy issue, those that make and sell food to the American public have been all over the map on how they will deal with the pressure to change America’s major export from fat people to healthy people.
It’s not an easy transition. Some food manufacturers have just said, “screw it” and gone rogue with products like the Baconator, trusting that the American public just can’t help themselves and will eat junk food no matter what. Other food manufacturers have embraced the opportunity, removing trans fats from their products and touting the benefits of whole grain and flax seed oil. Toddler parents everywhere can seek solace in the fact that the fistful of goldfish crackers that lives on the floor of their car can claim both of these attributes.
And then there are the fringe-dwellers….those that use language to appear healthy while not actually doing anything to make their product more wholesome. These are those same marketing cynics that brought us cold raw dead fish dressed up as “sushi”.
The Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms that make the[high fructose corn] syrup, has been trying to improve the image of the much-maligned sweetener with ad campaigns promoting it as a natural ingredient made from corn. Now, the group has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to start calling the ingredient “corn sugar,” arguing that a name change is the only way to clear up consumer confusion about the product. (as quoted in a 9/14/10 NY Times story):
Ahem. Yeah, right. Stuff that is bad for you by any other name is still bad for you. And yet, this absurd exercise in semantics is precisely how some of the food manufacturers are embracing the healthy food movement. Hey, corn syrup guys: Not Helpful. Oh yeah, and by the way, corn subsidy-supporting legislators: shame on you!
When asked to help rename high fructose corn syrup from their own perspective, several of our nationally known healthy food experts offered the following ideas:
- Corn Glucose and Fructose Syrup: Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and author of “Food Politics,” says these five words sum up the ingredient because it is not corn sugar and does not technically come from corn. It’s made by extracting the starch from corn, treating it with enzymes to make glucose, and treating the glucose with other enzymes to turn about half of it into fructose.
- Enzymatically Altered Corn Glucose (EACG): Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” says EACG is a more accurate description because the substance is a highly-processed, novel food ingredient.
- Glucose-Fructose Corn Sweetener: Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the name is similar to the term “glucose-fructose syrup,” which is used in Canada.
- Corn Sugar: Barry Popkin, director of the University of North Carolina Interdisciplinary Obesity Center and an advocate for taxes on sugared beverages, says the simple name works.
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author and alternative medicine pioneer, says no name change is needed because “that’s what it is, and I don’t agree that it’s innocuous. It’s a cheap sweetener, a marker of low-quality industrial food and a major promoter of insulin resistance and obesity in our population.”
If the experts are in this much disagreement about what to call it, you know that the corn syrup guys are going to get their way (and the members of Congress that support corn subsidies are going to get free trips to Bermuda). It’s too bad, because none of those experts are arguing about whether the stuff is good for you; 10 out of 10 alleged nutritionists say: “just say no to whatever the hell you call that stuff.”
As some of you know, I am fascinated by how people use the English language. Euphemisms are one of the most fun categories in our language. Quentin Crisp, English writer and man-about-town once said, “Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.” Precisely. One of the more infamous recent euphemisms that came into the English parlance is “wardrobe malfunction” meaning, “holy cow, is that a nipple on TV?” A popular euphemism of the moment is “revenue enhancement,” which is code for, “yes, Virginia, we are raising your taxes.”
As I perused the reader comments on the NY Times article where the experts offered their new naming ideas for high-fructose corn syrup, I was delighted to see much more creative euphemisms suggested by the peanut gallery. Among the best:
- Liquid Death
- Toxic Waste
- Corporate Welfare
- CRAPPO (Corn Renamed As Practically, Perfectly Okay), and my personal favorite,
- Submit to Corn, Your Overlord
Now we’re talking!
But as a marketing person, I can’t help but feel very disappointed by the Corn Refiners Association’s attempts to rename their product to make it more acceptable. I mean, seriously, the PR guys should just be fired for such a tepid re-branding effort. Any self-respecting marketing person would go all in and lay their marketing chips on the hard eight.
If you want to put high fructose corn syrup right next to milk and eggs on everyone’s grocery list, you are going to have to think strategically and come up with a name that makes it the Gotta Have It product. Given my marketing background, I offer a few suggested names and slogans aimed at key market segments:
For the gals:
- SkinnySauce: Makes You Thin, At Least Within! (the fine print: On the outside, not so much);
- Juice d’Jolie: The More You Eat, the More You Look Like Angelina Jolie! (the fine print: when she is bloated);
And for the guys:
- Abstract d’Ashton: Makes You Feel Like Ashton Kutcher! (the fine print: because he’s from Iowa, not because you’ll be married to Demi Moore);
For the kids:
- Fun with Fructose: Skip and Play All Day! (fine print: until you lapse into a diabetic coma)
- Liquid Gold: Makes You Glisten Like a Pharoah’s Gold (the fine print: Tut’s Pyramid has no relation to actual food pyramid);
- Milk of Millionaires: Eat This and You’ll be Loaded! (the fine print: well, at least your arteries will be); and last but not least,
- Essence of Ecstasy: Like A Corn Orgasm in Every Bite! (the fine print: you wish)
Well, would love to chat but gotta go. The folks from the National Association to Promote Trans Fats are on the phone and they’re sounding a little desperate.