"People in a grocery store assume the government is scrutinizing the claims products make, so if they're on the label, they must be accurate and important," notes William Hallman, a psychologist at the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University. Of course, it's more complicated than that. The assumption of accuracy is correct, but the assumption of importance is not. Both Federal Trade Commission and FDA regulations require truthfulness on packages. Yes, the chicken is chicken. But, Hallman continues, "while the claim may be factually correct, the actual health benefits may lack practical significance."Why make claims that "lack practical significance"? Because, says Hallman, "we jump to the conclusion that the benefits are substantial." Scientific language cues the consumer to take an insignificant claim and provide a significant health benefit on the company's behalf. "The beauty of this is that the manufacturer doesn't have to make the claim of benefits explicit." Doesn't have to, and, for the most part, couldn't.
We do this because we generally believe science is good for us. The National Science Board survey found that although 90 percent of Americans consider themselves "interested" in science, only 15 percent consider themselves well informed. Ninety percent interested, 15 percent informed: That's a gap any marketing MBA could drive a truck of baloney through.