POM Wonderful and Hearts vs Brains

The makers of POM Wonderful want you to use your heart, not your brain.

At least, that’s the distinct impression we get from the company’s recent battle with the US Federal Trade Commission. Last week, an administrative law judge for the FTC found that at least some of POM’s ads made “false and misleading” claims about the health benefits of the trendy, branded pomegranate juice. And the company is fighting back with a series of ads that, by quoting the judge out of context, makes it look like he actually looked favourably upon their product.

The tagline for these ads: “FTC v. POM: You be the judge”.

So POM wants you to be the judge. On the surface, that sounds like they want you to think for yourself. And who could complain about that? But context matters. So when the company is pushing back against the FTC’s assertion (and the court’s finding) that the health claims made on behalf of its juice just don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, the implied message is that yes, you the consumer should decide, but you shouldn’t use your head in doing so. After all, if you used your head and thought it through rationally, you would want to look at the evidence. And, well, the evidence doesn’t look so good for POM. But the makers of POM, it seems, would rather you look inward instead of looking at the evidence. C’mon, you’ve tasted it. It’s delicious. It must be good for you. And you, dear customer, are smart enough to know that, right? Forget what the science says.

This kind of thing is arguably part of a larger social trend. See this recent essay by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, on the way politicians, in particular over the last decade, have found new ways to play fast-and-loose with the truth. Heath and Potter point out the new popularity of the trick of using stubborn repetition as means of bullying your way past awkward facts. A lie can be convincing, in particular when it feels right, when the claim being made fits with your world view or how you want the world to be. And who wouldn’t like to believe that a tasty serving of fruit juice could prevent heart disease or cancer?

The makers of POM are certainly not unique among advertisers wanting you to use your heart, rather than your brain. But they are unusually bold about it, going on the offensive and thumbing their noses at the people whose job it is to do the fact-checking. So consumers beware: when a company wants you not to take a hard look at the facts, it’s usually time to do just that.

4 comments so far

  1. Constant Geographer on

    Reblogged this on Constant Geography and commented:
    Dr. MacDonald runs the Business Ethics blog and writes about ethics associated with economic thought and business practices. Thought-provoking and insightful, Dr MacDonald’s blog and Twitter feed are worthy additions to your learning ecosystem.

  2. Constant Geographer on

    Critical thinking involves Logic and Reasoning, breaking down an argument and re-building. My sentiments are many people in the US simply lack experience in Logic and Reasoning.

    People argue points based on “Common Sense” but Common Sense runs the risk of complete and utter bias based on a person’s experience. As a result, I have little faith in Common Sense. As I become more exposed to the world around me I often wonder if Common Sense is a synonym for “Fallacy of the Masses” i.e. “Everyone believes X so X must be true.”

    Without having much training in Logic I’ve been working on my personal deficit. When I run across arguments such as POM’s I try to figure out what logical fallacy is being committed.

    I’m going to go with the Straw Man Fallacy. The courts argued POM cannot state the health benefits of their drinks as the benefits are not supported by evidence. POM then takes the courts comments out of context to support their initial contention of the alleged health benefits of their beverage.

    I suppose they could simply be engaged in a specious argument, too.

    Politicians commonly use the “Fallacy of the Masses” to garner support. The fact millions of people support candidates which engage the use of FOTM appears to indicate educational conditions exist which do not foster Logic or Reason when approaching any substantive topic.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      It’s not quite a Straw Man, since they’re not misrepresenting the judge’s argument to make it easier to criticize. Rather, they’re misrepresenting it in order to convince 3rd parties that he agrees with them.

      But yes, the Fallacy of the Masses (a.k.a. Appeal to Popularity) is rampant in this area, and especially in the related area of Alternative Medicine.

      • Constant Geographer on

        I agree; Straw Man was weak analogy. When trying to align the fallacy with the message, Straw Man was the best I could come up given my time 🙂

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