I thought the “Treats ED” juice claim in this cartoon was an exaggeration until I learned that the FDA warned POM Wonderful last year to stop making that exact claim. The FDA also sited POM for claims related to LDL cholesterol, promoting a healthy heart and prostate, reducing the length and severity of colds, and slowing prostate tumor growth.
There’s a health claim arms race underway in food marketing. One of the fastest growing food categories today is functional foods, which are fortified to give extra health benefits.
Functional food marketing can help breathe new life into an established brand. But there are risks.
One of the most daring brands has been POM Wonderful. Aside from the FDA warning, POM caught flak in the UK from the Advertising Standards Authority for it’s “Cheat death” ad, featuring a POM bottle wearing a broken noose.
Yet beyond the regulatory question, I think there’s also a brand fit question. How far can a brand stretch into heavy-duty health claim territory without turning off its core audience?
I think it depends a lot on the brand. POM Wonderful is obviously consumed by those who know and care about the power of antioxidants in pomegranate juice. What about other food brands with a different heritage? How much permission will consumers give them to stretch in health?
When I lived in the UK, I was surprised when innocent rebranded innocent Juicy Water as This Water, stripping off the beloved innocent brand name It’s a bold move to drop the halo of a well-known brand. This Water has added sugar, and they wanted to keep the innocent brand pure and focused. I like how they included this description on the This Water website: “We’re an entrepreneurial bunch brave enough to take the innocent brand off our label”.
I think the emerging world of functional foods will prompt brand teams to ask similarly brave questions on where to draw the line.