It’s been said that marketing is more about selling an idea than a product. There’s an early episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper comes up with a way to sell cigarettes by simply saying the tobacco is toasted, even though every brand has toasted tobacco. It doesn’t really matter what you’re trying to sell, just use words that make it sound enticing. You don’t even technically need to lie, just say stuff people want to hear. Even if that means saying things that mean nothing.
10. Corinthian Leather is Just Leather
Is there anything like the smell of a new car? It’s hard to even explain what it is. Maybe some of the paint, some deodorizers and cleaners used in production, and possibly even that rich, Corinthian leather.
Mmm, can you already feel it? Soft, supple, and luxurious? Yep, Corinthian leather is the top of the line upholstery for your car and why shouldn’t it be? It comes from Corinth, right? The Ancient Greek city once sacked by Romans and that currently has a population of under 40,000? They probably know tons about leather.
In reality, Corinthian leather has nothing to do with one another because Corinthian leather isn’t a thing. It was made up by ad execs for Ricardo Montalban. Yeah, Khan from Star Trek.
As the story goes, Montalban was doing the play Don Juan when he got to Detroit and Chrysler and its ad agency saw him perform. The executives loved Montalban and wanted him to promote the Cordoba, which sounded Spanish and fit Montalban’s sexy mystique.
They got him to talk about Corinthian leather because, in his accent, that word sounded suave as hell. Much cooler than just “leather” alone. It was just cheap leather, it didn’t come from anywhere special at all, but now it sounded like it did and people wanted it.
9. There’s No Such Thing as Sushi Grade Fish
About five million Americans eat sushi once a month and it’s safe to say it’s probably the most popular Japanese cuisine in North America. Some people love it enough to try their hand at doing it themselves even though it can take years, even over a decade, to master it in Japan.
One thing people concern themselves with when it comes to making sushi is the quality of the fish. You need sushi grade fish, right? You can find sushi grade fish for sale at markets but what they rarely tell you is that it doesn’t mean anything.
Things get a little complicated when trying to understand this because, in America, the FDA has guidelines for fish if it’s being served raw. Their Parasite Destruction Guarantee says that, in order to serve a raw product it must be “frozen and stored at a temperature of -20°C (-4°F) or below for a minimum of 168 hours (7 days).” That will ensure you’re at minimum risk for parasites in the fish. But is that sushi grade? No.
There is no regulation in North America for the actual term “sushi grade.” It may be used by vendors who meet that FDA standard, but the FDA doesn’t govern the use of that label so anyone can say any fish at all is sushi grade for no reason at all.
Sushi-grade was used as a marketing term in the early 2000s to convince restaurants to expand beyond tuna when trying to sell raw fish. It was a nice term that sounded official and convinced them to expand their horizons.
8. Superfruit Is Just a Vague Marketing Term
Everyone wants to sell you the next big thing and a buzz term that showed up a few years back was “superfood.” This has been narrowed down in some circles as “superfruit.” Things like pomegranate, acai, Goji berries and even blueberries have been called superfruits, mostly because they have antioxidants or whatever other nutrient someone is trying to push as a miracle.
In reality, a superfruit is a fruit. It may be a good fruit and it’s great if you love it and want to eat it, but it’s no “better” than other fruits. That’s kind of the rub with a word like “super,” it doesn’t have a lot of objective meaning.
The European Union banned the label “superfood” back in 2007 unless manufacturers could provide evidence of how that item was good for your health. .
7. All Salt Is Sea Salt
Once upon a time if you went to the store to buy salt you’d find boxes of iodized salt and shakers and maybe some coarse or kosher salt. Now when you go, you can find gray salt, pink salt, Atlantic sea salt, Celtic salt, black salt and probably a few dozen more.
Sea salt is big, especially in marketing other products. Sea salt chips, for instance, or pretzels coated with coarse sea salt. You know it’s good if it came from the sea! Except in a very literal way, all salt is sea salt.
Even if the ocean that it came from dried up hundreds or thousands of years ago, it came from the sea at some point. And it is chemically exactly the same as all other salt, it just might have a handful of other random, non-salt minerals included in tiny amounts to tweak the color.
Modern day marketing uses terms like “sea salt” to make it seem different from “regular” salt and therefore higher quality or more nutritious but it’s all the same in the end.
6. Angus Is Just a Breed of Cattle and Doesn’t Imply Quality
People take their beef seriously and any restaurant that is trying to entice you to buy steaks or burgers isn’t just going to have beef on the menu. They’re going to seduce you with tales of just how great that beef is. It’s going to be USDA Prime beef and maybe, if you’re really fancy, it’ll be certified Angus beef. That has to be good. It’s certified! It earned a certificate!
So what makes beef certified Angus? Well, it has to come from an Angus cow. Like Holstein or Guernsey, Angus is a breed of cow. They’re the black ones, and to qualify as Angus, a cow has to be mostly black. Then, to be certified Angus beef, the meat has to have a specific amount of marbling and fat, muscle thickness and so on.
In terms of taste, you probably won’t notice any difference between Angus beef and any other beef of the same quality because it’s all beef. If it has the same fat content, it’s going to be pretty much identical. The Angus label, which is usually used to make beef seem higher quality, tastier or just better than “normal” beef is nothing but marketing.
The big difference comes down to Angus vs Certified Angus. The certified meat is at least inspected to ensure the highest quality in terms of marbling which affects flavor. Again, if you had beef from a different breed that had the same thickness, the same fat marbling, etc, it will taste the same.
If someone is selling Angus beef that doesn’t claim to be certified, then it can be any quality of Angus. This is what fast food companies do with their Angus burgers, and you end up paying more for beef that is no better quality than what is normally on the menu..
5. Portobello, Cremini and Button Mushrooms Are All the Same
Not everyone enjoys mushrooms but plenty of people do and the mushroom industry is worth over $50 billion per year. Matsutake mushrooms can cost as much as $2000 per pound, so it’s easy to see where all that cash is coming from.
Marketing plays a big part in selling mushrooms and nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of portobello mushrooms. For those of us who can’t shell of a few grand for matsutakes or truffles, the portobello is the more accessible fancy mushroom. You’ll see them on menus when a restaurant wants to elevate a dish above just boring old mushrooms. Or at least trick you into thinking that.
In reality, there’s no such thing as a portobello mushroom. Obviously it’s an actual mushroom, but it’s no different from those little white button mushrooms you see on the shelf of every grocery store in North America and that’s because they’re exactly the same mushroom.
Little white button mushrooms turn brown as they age. At a certain point they will be marketed as cremini mushrooms, probably right next to their pale, younger selves on the shelf. But when they grow big enough, they get upgraded to portobello. All three mushrooms are the same fungus, just at different stages in its lifespan. Marketing makes it seem like you’re getting something fancier or higher quality.
4. No Tears Shampoo for Kids Didn’t Have a Specific Meaning
Ever open your eyes in the shower with a headful of shampoo and instantly regret it as the lather oozes into your eyes and burns into your skull? Good thing they invented tear-free shampoo so you can lather your eyes until the cows come home. Except that’s not really how it works and the concept of “no tears” shampoo was more marketing than practical formula.
There was never a standard formula to govern what “no tears” means between brands of shampoo. Until 2013, Johnson and Johnson used to include formaldehyde in their no tears baby shampoo which you probably don’t need a degree in chemistry to know was a bad thing to put in your eyes.
More confusing was that, for some years, there was a debate about whether no tears meant tears as in liquid that comes from your eyes or tears as in rips and breaks in your hair. There were commercials that made it clear the formula was a detangler so that, when you comb your hair later, it wouldn’t tear at your skull and cause you to cry.
Johnson and Johnson, post formaldehyde, said their formula meant no tears as in no crying if shampoo gets in your eyes because their formula is made up of larger molecules designed to be less harsh to eyes and skin. All of this means the marketing term “no tears” meant very little to most people since it was widely open to interpretation.
3. Cage Free and Free-Range Might Not Mean What You Think
Once upon a time you’d go to a store and buy eggs. Now you can pick Omega-3 eggs, organic eggs, cage-free eggs, free range eggs and a few dozen others. Some of those things mean something and others probably don’t mean what you think.
Cage-free eggs means that yes, the hen that laid them wasn’t in a cage. But it doesn’t mean she was outside, either. These hens are kept in rooms where they can roam and have unlimited access to food and water. However, the chickens often fight each other and poor ventilation means they may live in terrible air quality.
Free-range is more insidious. It sounds like the hens can wander, but in reality it means they can “theoretically” wander free. The place they are kept must have a door to the outside, but there’s literally no rule that says a farmer has to open it, or that the access they have to outside is anything beyond a small cage. Look for “certified humane” if you want more assurance they had access to space outside.
Another label, farm fresh, has no meaning at all. Chickens are all raised on farms so it’s just filler to say this. The farm could be in the fiery pits of hell and the eggs would still be farm fresh. Likewise, the word natural has no meaning because an egg, by definition, is natural.
2. Saltwater Taffy and Regular Taffy Are the Same Thing
Would you rather have taffy or saltwater taffy, assuming you’re a taffy person at all? There’s no reason to stress any longer as there’s no difference between the two. “Saltwater” taffy is just a thing to make it sound better. It’s not even made from saltwater.
According to legend, a taffy shop in Atlantic City was flooded one day thanks to some angry sea levels. A customer wanted to buy some taffy, and the owner joked all he had was salt water taffy, thanks to the flood. But he sold what he had, the customer liked it and boom, a new name was created.
1. The Term “Teenager” Was Invented in the 40s
Everyone knows what a teenager is, it’s obvious. But that’s only obvious to use in the present. If you asked someone in the ’30s what a teenager was, you’d be met with an arched eyebrow at best. That’s because the concept of teenagers was invented as a marketing angle in the 1940s.
Teenagers became a recognized phase of life, that sport between childhood and adulthood as society moved away from agrarian roots to city living and manufacturing. To prevent kids from all being chimney sweeps or coal miners, mandatory schooling was created and a clear “new” type of human emerged – the teenager. A little rebellious, a little better educated, and unique in their wants and needs.
Marketers of the world must have rejoiced at this totally new and cross-cultural customer base they had created to sell things to, and which to this day stands as one of the biggest forces in pop culture and marketing as everyone wants to be the next “big thing” for the teens out there.