Why is a smoothie brand peddling fake news?
If even Innocent has given up on defending reality, then we are in trouble
Imagine a smoothie made with baked beans. Disgusted? Horrified? You’re supposed to be. Even the greatest bean aficionados like myself have a gag response.
Which is why Innocent Smoothies this week pretended to launch a bean smoothie, alongside a new smoothie with oats in. I can imagine the play-by-play in the marketing focus groups. Oats in a smoothie sounds a bit weird. How can we get people to open their minds? Let’s extend the ‘Overton Window’ for smoothie ingredients by proposing something outlandish. Bean smoothies make oat smoothies seem normal.
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Innocent even teamed up with Heinz to make it more plausible. So far, so April Fools Day.
But what’s the exit strategy for a fake product launch? When do you admit you made it up? On the first click-through, surely?
No. That’s when Not-So-Innocent-After-All did something that makes me so angry I want to pour their overpriced fruit sludge over the heads of everyone in their marketing department. They lied about lying. This is the tweet they are now promoting into my timeline:
IMPORTANT BEAN-BASED DISCLAIMER
We have NOT made a bean smoothie. We have no idea where these stories have come from but it's clear that social media has once again bean fuelling the spread of misinformation.
the innocent department of not adding beans to things pic.twitter.com/ed0oZLMLOB
— innocent drinks (@innocent) October 12, 2020
Click through to their Twitter bio and you will see that the original bean announcement is their pinned tweet. Challenge them on this, as various people have, and they reply “No it isn’t”. Or “The first thread was a typo” or “It was a rumour someone started to discredit us.”
Now, I have liked the jokey tone of Innocent’s brand and packaging since the start. I was here for the funny messages about life on the bottom of the bottles and the quirky observations about recycling and the knitted bobble hats. My children still giggle at the “no pencil cases” or whatever it is on the ingredients list of their kids drinks.
But fake news, and with it the subversion of truth, is one of the existential challenges of our information age. The fundamental basis of a democracy — a common understanding of a shared reality — is under threat by a combination of state and non-state disinformation warriors, egged on by our own political leaders. Fake news is not a tactic for your quirky new brand strategy.
Innocent’s defence is pretty simple: we knew no-one would believe us. The fake product launch tweets are still available, so no-one will really get confused. Everyone will be able to laugh along. This is pitiful. The joke is this: “No-one has a clue what’s real any more and you can’t trust anything you see on the internet, ha ha ha”. Is that really the band wagon you want to load your drinks onto?
Yes: Donald Trump has shown us that you can get away with it. You can brazenly deny your own words, even when presented with video evidence of you saying them. But for a brand to copy that behaviour for the lolz? It’s grotesque.
And don’t say that this doesn’t matter because it’s only smoothies. Brands matter. Brands exist — they make money, and they bolster institutions — because they build trust. Trust, embodied in the brand, acts as a simple heuristic for us all. It’s a mental shortcut: will the meal taste good? Will the paint stripper work? Will the news be accurate? You don’t need to check, if you trust the brand.
Brands are, in effect, a line of institutional defence against the era of fake news. So if your friendly neighbourhood smoothie maker has given up on defending reality, what hope is there for any of us?
Stop using Twitter.
There, problem solved.
I am deeply shocked that a company that is owned by a vast multi-national has not acted with the highest of moral values. Where am I now to go for moral guidance?
If this is the stuff Twitter users obsess about then I am glad not to use it, but please Polly, leave this nonsense in Twitter where it no doubt belongs.
I think its good, we shouldn’t take anything anyone or any organisation says at face value. We need to rebuild genuine critical thinking (as opposed to critical theory) so people can use reason rather than bias or more likely tribalism.
Really, who cares? It is the job of commercial brands to attract attention or gain sales with various wheezes and claims. It is our job, as consumers, to see through them, or decide that we want to buy into it. Innocent sells overpriced smoothies that probably do you no good whatsoever and come in plastic bottles, but if people want to buy them that is their choice.
The problem is that, over the last 40 years or so, the tricks and tactics of harmless brands have been applied to all areas of our life, including the so-called mainstream media and all areas of governance. Thus the average govt department probably disseminates more disinformation in a day than the ad industry disseminates in a year. The ad industry is at least regulated to some extent as to various product claims, which cannot be said of govt departments.
Oh please, are you really that surprised that a company is trying to play this old trick? If you are, I think you’ve got some growing up to do.
I think what this article highlights is not that brand marketing is manipulative — of course it is — but that the post-reality “fake news” meme has attained such cultural penetration that it’s now a viable marketing strategy. We should be worried about that, since by the time megacorporations adopt something (gay rights, feminism, wokeness) it’s after that thing has attained cultural hegemony. In other words, it’s not any more worrisome than usual that some oat brand (that, frankly, I’ve never heard of) is doing deceptive advertising; but it is worrisome that it’s doing it in this way.
It’s not a friendly neighbourhood company,that’s just their marketing shtick ,they’re part of a vast multinational !
Part of the problem of contemporary discourse,lack of trust, was deliberately cultivated by ‘brands’ as far back as the 1950s when tobacco companies deliberately introduced obfuscation and fake ‘evidence’ to help promote their products, their methods permeated politics and now ,here we are . . . . .
The whole article reads like an April Fool’s, lol.
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