By Alec Brooks of Kazerouni Law Group, APC on Monday, June 27, 2016.
There’s an old phrase that goes, “My word is as strong as oak.” People say this after making a promise, to let the other party know they will keep their promise, and that it is there to stay, like an old oak tree. These days consumers are encountering promise after promise, not just from people, but from almost everywhere they look. Every park bench, billboard, and bag of chips in the checkout aisle has promises plastered all over it. Promises like: All Natural, Gluten Free, or 30 percent off. The question isn’t whether or not consumers understand the definition of these words or phrases, it’s whether or not they understand what they mean after companies bend and twist the definitions until they’re almost unrecognizable.
“All Natural.” What loving parents don’t want to stock their homes with foods void of any harmful preservatives or fake ingredients with names that they can hardly pronounce? A food labeled as all natural conjures up images of homemade jam, fresh tomato soup, or those perfect midday snack multigrain bars . A product that doesn’t come to mind is Cheetos. Yet, Frito Lay sells and advertises one of their brands of Cheetos as “all natural.” No, they aren’t dried out pieces of quality bread with real cheese, they remain a pieces of dried starch coated in powdered cheese. Frito Lay is able to advertise the Cheetos as all natural due to their exceedingly loose interpretation of the term, as these Cheetos contain no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. It doesn’t mean the cheesy puffs don’t contain a whole lot of other chemicals, they just managed to move a few things around and earned the all natural label.
Kashi, the San Diego based company and producer of over 90 different plant-based foods didn’t get away with using the all natural labeling quite as easily.. The company was in litigation over false advertising claims for three years before settling last October for four million dollars (Eggnatz v. Kashi Company, Case No. 12-21678P). The settlement came after the company allegedly misled customers by putting all natural labels on foods that were suspected to contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
Unfortunately it’s not only food labels that are capable of misleading to us. Labels on clothes and other everyday items are just as capable of giving us the wrong idea. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s were accused of trying to redefine the word discount. The stores were selling products at a reduced price from what they were usually sold for. At that point the definition remained universal. The department store’s definition of the term became questioned when it was suspected the lowered prices were in reference to prices that never existed. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s had been allegedly posting initially inflated prices and then discounting them to dupe people into believing they were finding a great bargain. The companies are now facing a class action lawsuit seeking over five million dollars.(Farhang et al v. Macy’s, Inc., Macy’s West Stores, Inc., and Bloomingdale’s, Inc Case No. 4:16-cv-02850).
Language is a funny thing. As hard as we try to use terms objectively and in ways that everyone is in agreement over, language remains a vessel for manipulation and deception. We must be cautious when buying into the language used by anyone trying to sell us anything. When a used car dealer tries to dress up an old junky car that he’s selling by referring to it as, “vintage,” usually the buyer can look right at the car and decide for themselves that it’s not worth their money. This isn’t as simple when it comes to something like a bag of chips being all natural or gluten free, as that’s basically impossible to discern by looking at them. If you believe a product isn’t delivering on what they advertise, you may be able to file a false advertising claim against them, and Kazerouni Law Group might be able to help. Let’s read between the lines and try to actually get what we pay for. Please contact us at 949-404-4228 or visit us at www.kazlg.com if you believe you’ve been affected by false advertising.