A corporate spokesperson is paid to portray their employer in the best possible light — no matter the issue. But every now and then this oath to defend the company and deflect scrutiny at all costs can prove difficult, resulting in responses to media inquiries that approach the absurd. I’ve seen it firsthand as a journalist at TINA.org when I’ve asked some of the largest companies in the world to respond to issues involving misleading advertising. Here are some responses in which the doublespeak is just as hard to decipher as the questionable claims in the ads themselves:
Verizon: Last summer I debated with Verizon the meaning of “limitless” as it related to an advertised 20GB data plan. In an inquiry, I echoed a TINA.org reader’s complaint that 20GB appeared to be the limit. I was promptly corrected. A spokeswoman informed me that “limitless” referred not to the amount of data in the plan (if it did, the word would have been “unlimited,” I was told) but to how the data can be used. Regardless, the commercial in question and its related YouTube video stopped airing a couple weeks after the inquiry.
Fairlife:Coke’s first foray into the milk market with Fairlife is, among other things, an appeal to the “real food” movement. But one feel-good phrase popular in the so-called super milk’s advertising lacks any real meaning. The phrase, “from grass to glass,” conjures up images of happy cows grazing on an open meadow. But Fairlife cows are neither free-range or grass-fed. When I brought these findings to the company, its response was as ambiguous as a cow in a clown costume or, for that matter, a clown in a cow costume. I was told the phrase was a way “to prove the history of the animals and the location of the farm” from which the milk came. In other words, it’s evidence that milk comes from cows and cows come from farms and farms have locations and it’s the circle of life and it moves us all.
BuzzFeed and New York Magazine:Rather than call an ad an ad, both of these publishers in 2016 had alternative names for its respective affiliate marketing programs. In response to separate inquiries regarding the lack of disclosure of these programs, which earn the publishers commissions when consumers click through and make a purchase, BuzzFeed referred to posts in its Buy Me That section as “shoppable content” while New York Magazine labeled write-ups in its The Strategist section “editorial endorsements.” How the paid posts could be called “editorial” anything and not “ad” I could not fathom. It was truly absurd.
I can’t wait to see the responses the new year will bring.
Jason Bagley, writer at TINA.org, is still romantic about journalism and believes in its power to educate and inform.