Pay more for these meaningless words and phrases!(Read article summary)
Consumers often pay more for products advertised as "all-natural," "hypoallergenic," or with other words and phrases that sound good but can mean whatever the seller wants.
Photo illustration / Business Wire
Every time I go shopping for a food item or a household item, Iâ€™m always bombarded with all sorts of nonsensical and largely meaningless terms plastered all over products. The words are often tied to products that, frankly, I view as overpriced for various reasons.
I decided to catalogue a few of these wonderful meaningless words that people pay for.
New The â€ścult of the newâ€ť is an expensive one that has a lot of adherents. New products are usually priced quite highly â€“ and usually attract buyers who are simply looking for a â€śnewâ€ť experience. At the same time, of course, â€śnewâ€ť products are ones that have not stood the test of time. They might be good â€“ they might be awful. For my dollar, I think Iâ€™ll stick with a Consumer Reports recommendation and pick up a product that I know works that doesnâ€™t have that â€śnewâ€ť premium price.
Now 28% better! Whenever you see a comparison like this, ask yourself two things: in what way is it better and how is that â€śbetterâ€ť actually measured? If you read this type of statement and think for a moment, you realize that it could mean anything at all â€“ better blue color in the liquid laundry detergent and so on. Unless the product is precisely stating what the improvement is, such a statement doesnâ€™t have any meaning â€“ or value â€“ at all.
Hypoallergenic Itâ€™s a nice-sounding term that doesnâ€™t mean a thing. Why? There is no official standard for what the word means. There isnâ€™t even a voluntary standard that defines the term. It does not mean that the product wonâ€™t cause an allergic reaction. It might, at best, mean that the marketers think that the stuff in the product probably wonâ€™t cause an allergic reaction â€“ which really doesnâ€™t mean much at all, does it?
Fragrance-free Wouldnâ€™t it be nice if â€śfragrance freeâ€ť actually meant that the product doesnâ€™t contain any fragrance? In truth, the product is usually â€śsmell-freeâ€ť or some attempt at it. Instead of not including a fragrance, what often happens is that a finished product with a fragrance in it has something added to eliminate or mask the smell. If itâ€™s done well enough, marketers will slap this label on it â€“ but if youâ€™re allergic to fragrances, it really doesnâ€™t mean much at all.
All natural The word â€śnaturalâ€ť can basically mean anything. There are no standards at all for what this word means. Try this: compare a â€śnaturalâ€ť product to a similar one that doesnâ€™t have â€śnaturalâ€ť written on the label and see what exactly is different in the ingredients list. Iâ€™ll go ahead and tell you: not much is different.
Never tested on animals This one actually is true on the shallow surface: the product hasnâ€™t been tested on animals. However, that statement is saying nothing at all about the ingredients that make up the product â€“ most of those were likely tested on animals before they were approved for wide use. There are almost no ingredients in cosmetics and medicines for human use that werenâ€™t already tested on animals.
Best-of-breed Such statements usually imply that the product is the best among its competitors. However, when youâ€™re allowing the company to define who the competition is, they usually define that competition as narrowly as possible: â€śdog foods that use these 25 ingredients and these 6 coloring agentsâ€ť or something to that effect. Itâ€™s easy to be best-of-breed when youâ€™re the only one in the group.
Organic A caveat: when you actually see the USDA Organic label on food products, that label has specific meaning: the item comes from (or the ingredients come from) a farm that lives up to the USDA Organic standards for plant and animal treatment, which encompasses quite a few things â€“ no hormones, no pesticides, and so on. However, the word â€śorganicâ€ť is often used in contexts that have nothing to do with farms or the USDA Organic certification â€“ itâ€™s just used as a buzzword for a product thatâ€™s trying to sell itself as being â€śall natural,â€ť as mentioned above.
Superfood This is yet another term without any sort of legal definition. Thus, itâ€™s ofen applied to all kinds of things to encourage sales â€“ particularly high-priced fruits, vegetables, juices, and vitamins. Guess what? A well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables of all kinds will take care of your nutrition needs without spending extra money on the exotic semi-bogus â€śsuperfoodâ€ť of the week.
Nontoxic Again, this is a term that has no standard definition and no verification process to ensure that the product meets that non-existent definition. If a manufacturer thinks the product probably wonâ€™t kill you if you eat it and doesnâ€™t contain anything thatâ€™s blatantly known as a toxic chemical, they can put a â€śnontoxicâ€ť label on it. But if itâ€™s not food, why are you eating it anyway?
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link above.