A clever play on words, an image that delivers emotion and impact, a video that tugs on your senses—these marketing tricks can definitely do wonders for a brand. But push it beyond ethical barriers and you’re at risk of losing credibility and, consequently, your market’s trust.
With regard to questionable marketing, some say that as long as no laws are broken then everything is fair game. It is business, after all, and some companies are willing to do anything to get ahead of the game. It is a ruthless world and, oftentimes, players roll with the punches by engaging in an equally ruthless game. In all this, where does ethics come into play?
Killing the kielbasa
Have you ever wondered why the prices of supermarket beef hotdogs, pork sausages, and longganisas are low? Turn the packet over and look closely at the list of ingredients to find out. There are some brands of beef sausage, for instance, that list chicken skin, chicken, vegetable starch, and whey or milk protein as ingredients. Yes, the sausage might actually contain more chicken than beef. In the case of some beef hotdogs, you are lucky if you find more than 25 percent real beef in them.
One of the best examples of misrepresenting a traditional and national product is Polish kielbasa. In Poland, kielbasa actually means “sausage” and there are over 130 different kinds of it. As such, the producers should be confident enough to label the specific type of kielbasa they are trying to make and not use a generic term to cash in on the fame of Polish sausage. You cannot walk into a Polish store and ask for one kilogram of kielbasa. Most likely, the sales lady surrounded by 50 different kinds of kielbasa will inevitably reply, “Yes, but which one?”
Have you ever wondered why the prices of supermarket beef hotdogs, pork sausages, and longganisas are low? Turn the packet over and look closely at the list of ingredients to find out. There are some brands of beef sausage, for instance, that list chicken skin, chicken, vegetable starch, and whey or milk protein as ingredients.
Here’s the hard truth, a comparison of the ingredients between the Polish government’s patented recipe for Polska Kielbasa Wedzona (Polish smoked sausage) and that from a large commercial brand sold in supermarkets:
Traditional Polish government-patented and registered recipe: pork, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, marjoram, sodium nitrite
Commercial producer’s recipe: pork, turkey, beef (two percent or less) salt, turkey broth, water, corn syrup, starch (potato, modified starch), dextrose, hydrolyzed milk protein, smoke flavoring, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), autolyzed yeast, gelatin, sodium phosphate, sodium diacetate, sodium nitrite, potassium lactate, potassium chloride, granulated garlic, oleoresin of paprika, flavorings, ingredients not found in or in excess of amount permitted in regular smoked sausage, contains: milk
Many hotels, brands, and catering companies claim that they use “freshly made bread” or that “all our products are made fresh every day,” giving customers the impression that their pastries are baked daily when, in reality, the bread, croissants, and Danish pastries are ready-made in France or another country and then just flown to the Philippines frozen. The establishments merely reheat and warm up the already-baked products and sell them. The play on words and lack of specifics are a commonly used ploy and marketing hook that lead the consumer to make positive assumptions.
Carbon copy concepts
In the Philippines, there are cases in which an establishment that has a good concept and does really well suddenly gets copied by others who want to cash in on its fame. Usually, in business, this is fair game, but in one example, a foreign franchise was brought to the country and in the same year, a local copycat franchise opened. The similarities were quite obvious: both brand names were only two words long and one word was the same; the logos and brand identity had the same color scheme; even the presentation of the food was identical. The local copy tried to use the marketing and popularity of the foreign brand to trick the consumers into thinking that they were one and the same. Luckily, the team behind the original concept from overseas had more experience, making the original more successful than the other.
Many hotels, brands, and catering companies claim that they use “freshly made bread” or that “all our products are made fresh every day,” giving customers the impression that their pastries are baked daily when, in reality, the bread, croissants, and Danish pastries are ready-made in France or another country and then just flown to the Philippines frozen.
There exist beautifully marbled “unique” steaks that sell at prices 40 percent cheaper than other quality steak cuts. How is this possible? Through the wonders of science.
Meat that has very little to no fat at all gets the marbling effect through forced injections. Some cuts of beef are mechanically tenderized and injected with a liquid mixture composed of the following additives: water (12 percent), vegetable oil (six percent), and marbling mix (one percent). The remaining 81 percent is beef. Yes, 19 percent of what you are paying for is not meat.
Companies do not hide this fact but the manufacturer also does not openly advertise or tell you about it in their packaging. It is the responsibility of the consumers to educate themselves, and these beautiful pictures and image impressions that lead us to make assumptions are our own fault; we just believe what we see.
It’s no different from Angus or Wagyu burgers, for example. The mere mention of these words instantly makes a product premium, when they’re just breeds of cows. When we hear Angus beef burger or Wagyu burger, marketing has led us to believe that the patty must be of higher quality. But what if the patty only contains 20 percent Wagyu or Angus and the rest is lower grade beef with fillers, binders, and extenders? Is it still okay to label something as that? It’s not completely false but at the same time, it’s not true as well.
The only way to deal with this matter is for you to go out to the food and beverage world and educate yourself. Question everything and understand the difference between truth and creative truth. Differentiate the authentic from the knockoff. Because only then will you really come to appreciate the food that you eat.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 14 No. 2