False Advertising

*A clip from the movie Elf

I wanted to start with this clip because I think it shows how truly ridiculous advertising has become. Just because you label something with a certain description doesn’t make it so. Clearly the world’s best cup of coffee is not actually found in that little shop. A good real-world example of this is labelling something healthy. Almost every food and beverage nowadays tries to portray itself as healthy in some way. Nutella recently got burned for its claims to be a health food losing a lawsuit and being forced to change its marketing. However, labelling and advertising methods continue to sell because people often forget to check that miniscule nutrition label on the back.

            The grocery shopper of my family has fallen victim to these tactics before. The world of juice seems to be a realm of particular treachery. Brands such as V8 that one thinks would be healthy end up containing very little juice and a lot of high fructose corn syrup. In general, there is a fad for all things natural right now. People are crazy these days for everything organic and chemical free.

Some “Chemical-Free soap” for your viewing pleasure:

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            As a chemistry student this label of chemical free is particularly amusing because at least from a chemistry standpoint it is preposterous. I was rather amused the other day when I saw a chemical free hand soap in Walmart. Soap is after all designed to kill bacteria so of course it has chemicals in it. Furthermore, from a chemist’s standpoint everything is made of chemical components. Everything is made up of atoms and molecules. What they really mean is that the soap contains all natural ingredients and is free of harsh chemicals. Even natural ingredients are made up of the elements though. Also, harsh chemicals definitely shouldn’t be used as a blanket for all chemicals. When I got back to my dorm I looked up the soap (Beesential Foaming Hand Soap). The ingredient list mostly contained a variety of plant extracts. Life is carbon based so aren’t those just natural chemicals?

            This brings me to another issue we mentioned briefly in my chemistry class. Are synthetic compounds different than natural ones? The general public certainly seems to think so. It seems to me that they may be wrong though. On the one hand this is true for things where different synthetic substances are substituted for healthier natural ones. For example, high fructose corn syrup used as a sugar substitute is much worse for you. However, with chemistry it is possible to produce compounds the same as those found in nature. If a chemist were to make water it would still be water. H2O is H2O no matter how it was made. Despite this ability to replicate questions are still often raised. Many livestock are treated with growth hormones. This greatly increases production but could potentially result in human health problems. One has to weigh the benefits and the risks.

            In general, chemicals seem to be misunderstood. Sure the family has a few bad cousins but should that give them all a bad reputation? The world around us and in fact including us are made up of chemicals.  Maybe the advertisers should be sued for their mistakes like Nutella. Personally, I’m willing to forgive them. After all perhaps not all of them have been enlightened by the intro chemistry course.