Experiments are usually centered on the traditional scientific method. Many of them are geared towards proving or disproving causal relationships – does A cause B? In a systemic world, it is difficult to find singular causes that derive singular effects; more frequently, dynamic systems produce multicausality for singular effects, singular causes for multiple effects, or simply multiple causes with multiple results.
Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars in clinical studies trying to isolate cause and effect in order to prove that their products do not cause harm and result in a singular positive effect. And even then, they still publish a plethora of warnings along with possible side effects and an abundance of legal disclaimers. The consequences of pharmaceutical companies producing inaccurate or even misleading information to doctors and consumers is huge, whereas Consumer Products companies have a little more margin to play.
Traditionally, Consumer Products marketing departments have enjoyed stretching the boundaries of causal relationships. Take the example of eating breakfast. Studies have proven that children that eat breakfast in the morning are about 11% more attentive than kids who do not. For a company like Kellogg’s, it is natural to deduce that if kids who eat breakfast are more attentive, then kids who eat Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast are more attentive. However, Kellogg’s marketing that Frosted Mini-Wheats could improve kids’ attentiveness and memory will cost them $4 million as a result of a recent class-action lawsuit.
Stretching the truth through marketing claims continues to surge for Consumer Products companies (Kellogg’s, Sketchers, Avon, etc). In a recent NPR interview, class action attorney Tim Blood talked about the tension we see between marketing, legal and scientific teams as marketing communications are created for the consumer. As Mr. Blood points out, in Consumer Products companies, the marketing team often wins these battles. Contrast that with our pharma clients, where seldom would the final decision on advertising and labeling messages rest with marketing. Although there is certainly less to lose with Consumer Products companies, $4 million and a great deal of negative publicity doesn’t help with creating a positive return on marketing investment dollars.
Corporate responsibility ultimately takes over regardless of who is stretching the boundaries of a product claim. Savvy consumers are attentive, the media is watching and regulatory bodies will not rest idle.