Why Companies Can Lie About (Almost) Everything

We’re being duped and lead-on every day. Advertisements, Augmented truth, and Almost lies all sway consumers despite the best of intentions. I recently tried to find out whether GlamGlow, a Californian skincare company, tested on animals. I usually go straight to “Paula’s Choice,” a website for honest answers, and in this case the answer is “Yes, yes they do.” However, I was alarmed by the overwhelming amount of conflicting views on the internet.

Many bloggers cited it as being cruelty-free without substantive evidence, and others even pointed to a “cruelty-free” mark on the packaging (which has since disappeared from the packaging). I accept that I should have checked more legitimate websites in the first place, but in my frustration I started to wonder: why is it so hard to find straight answers about the manufacturing practices of these corporations? Why do companies shy away from the transparency that we demand from other institutions? Though profit remained the lingering answer to my questions, one more remained. If there are supposed to be protections against such misuse of public opintion, why can companies lie about, well, everything?

It depends on how one defines truth. If you define truths1616788-main-hero merely as the absence of the basest falsehood, I suppose GlamGlow is in the clear; however, if you understand truth to be the honest attempt at transparency meant to communicate ideas, then we’ve got a problem. The specific mask I bought may not have been tested on animals, but this brand is sold in China where the practice is required by law. So, GlamGlow may not perform the tests but it’s certainly complicit in them. They are perfectly fine with the Chinese government doing it on their behalf. Using this logic, recruiting the aid of an assassin to kill someone is morally ambiguous as opposed to being another form of murder, as the law and anyone with any sense knows it to be. Though GlamGlow is guilty of obscuring the truth by not providing all information up front, it isn’t the only company who uses ambiguous definitions to sway customers interested in ethical products.

imagesIt’s all about image. These companies underhandedly appeal to consumers who are willing to pay more for “ethical” products while continuing to use profit-gaining practices. In a 2005 article published in the Business and Society review, “Green Companies or Green Con-Panies,” the authors found that many companies avoid making large, sweeping changes towards environmentally friendly practices. Most make changes under duress, forced either by governments or by the consumer, yet make only small piecemeal changes. Despite this, many “conpanies” want to be viewed as “green” because many consumers consciously choose those products, believing that they’re more ethically produced. Peta also indicated that many cosmetics companies use ambiguous language to hide their practices. Shieseido, they say, has indicted that it has stopped “most” animal testing, but there exists no quantifiable definition of “most.” Mary Kay, too, indicates that they do not “conduct” animal testing, but as Peta points out, they pay other companies to do these tests on their behalf.

Mary, you may protest, there are laws in place to protect Americans against false advertising, and should those companies transgress there’s even the Better Business Bureau. Well, those things do exist, but there are many ways to sneakily imply falsehoods without technically misrepresenting themselves. In Carter Dillard’s article, he cites a few examples of circumstances in which advocacy groups fought against misleading advertising resulting in positive outcomes. For example, the BBB shut down an egg ad campaign that heavily implied that the chickens were treated well. He also cites the success of the organic label, and how products labeled as organic must meet certain testable criteria.

made with ORGANIC flour

There are still ways to mislead grocery goers using “organic” and “green” labels. For example, the “natural” label has become very popular, but it means absolutely nothing. There exists no USDA designation or definition of the term “natural” which misleads customers to infer, incorrectly, that the product is safer than most.  I’ve even picked up many products with labels featuring a line like “made with organic milk” that make the word “organic” much bigger than the others in the phrase. I see the word and assume that it applies to the entire item, not just one aspect of it. Even use of the color green may sway some consumers who may not be aware of this Jedi mind trick. This color is often associated with ethical practices and eco-friendly products. If i were to outfit a bag of Cheetos with a green bag with flowers and a Buddha on the front, many would assume the puffed cheese product to be healthier than others.  

8225016931_31322ea202_zThere exist ways to combat these problems more directly, but I firmly believe in voting with my wallet. I realize that marketing affects me, and that a prettier design will make me want to buy the contents  more. I consciously try to fight this strong urge for the betterment of humanity. I want to buy ethical clothing. I want organic food. I write this article not as a chastisement of consumers, but as a warning to be wary of those who would otherwise abuse your better angels. The only things that sways these people is profit, and if that is the case, consumers can affect that which they hold most dear by refusing to buy knock-off, trickery, and humbug. We are being duped and lead-on every day by misleading advertisements; let’s not let it get the best of us. 

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