Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

In its most simple form, advertising is used to tell the story of a product or company with the hope of positioning it as the choice in the consumer’s mind. Those story messages are written to highlight the positives and downplay (or ignore) the negatives.

This is understandable, for why would a company pay money to list its faults and weaknesses and purposely tell consumers to choose another company? Caveat emptor should be our default filter through which we run a company’s communications.

Sometimes consumers forget their filter though.

That happened to a consumer who heard the messages for Nutella. In case you haven’t heard about Nutella, it is a chocolate hazelnut spread made by Ferrero. From the current messaging, this consumer concluded that Nutella was a healthy breakfast choice for kids. Watch the TV spot here and see what you think.

I think the consumer did hear that message; but I also think she forgot to run it through her caveat emptor filter. She trusted this message so fully that she dutifully obeyed the ad’s directive and began to serve her 4-year-old toast with a smear of Nutella each day. She says she was shocked when friends told her that chocolate on toast as a breakfast routine was not so good for long-term health. She is now suing Ferrero for false advertising.

A visit to Nutella’s Web site tells us that the spread is part of a nutritious breakfast—it doesn’t claim to be nutritious on its own:

“A slice of whole wheat toast spread with Nutella®, a serving of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt or 1% milk provides perfect balanced nutrition to start the day.”

NPR reports that critics are upset because the ads highlight the positives of Nutella’s hazelnuts, cocoa, and skim milk while ignoring the negatives of high sugar and palm oil content.

But is this false advertising? The positives mentioned are true; it’s just that the negatives weren’t stated. If this will be used as the standard for false advertising, however, every company would stand guilty.

For that matter, so would every person. We, as individuals, are the worst offenders, because we are constantly sending out messages about who we are, who we wish we were, and who we want others to think we are.

Although Christians should have sober personal assessments that include both the positives and the negatives, this is not always the case. Christians often feel the need to hide the broken, needy parts of themselves behind the positives that come with being redeemed in Christ.

Reality is that both people and products are a mix of positives and negatives. There is no product, nor is there any person (apart from the Lord Himself), that would escape a guilty verdict for false advertising.


  1. If that lady was a punching bag, I would not even give her the satisfaction. Even viewing the commercial, it’s pretty clear to the attentive viewer that Ferrero is only making one single claim about their product:

    Nutella is tasty enough that your brood of ADHD-addled minipeople will eat healthy-but-not-tasty foods like bread or whole-grain waffles if you put our chocolatey stuff on those foods.

    It never claims that Nutella is healthy. It never claims Nutella promotes health by any means other than by tricking kids into eating healthy stuff (if that’s what you choose to put Nutella on). And the Part of Your Complete Breakfast shtick has been such a ubiquitous part of the breakfast-hocking landscape for so long that the consumer public should have long-since abandoned any hopeful expectation that it ever meant anything.

    I mean if Corn Pops can use it, I think we’ve got our baseline understanding of the term set pretty low.

  2. I had a double-fiber english muffin this morning with Nutella spread spread all over it. Delicious.

  3. A while back I noticed that Cherry 7-Up now promotes on it’s label that is has antioxidants. I mean, cherries have antioxidants, so Cherry 7-Up should too. Makes sense. But in no way did I think that meant Cherry 7-Up was healthy. I guess that I just don’t believe everything I am told (or inferred), nor think that governing agencies should intervene if I am gullible.

  4. I hated that commercial. I saw it when it first came out and thought, “Oh, brother.” I’d say the same thing if it were a commercial about Cocoa Puffs. But I still buy Cocoa Puffs as a treat sometimes, just as I (as you know) buy Nutella. As a treat. If I smear some on my toast, I know full well what I’m doing and teach my kids the same. For an afternoon snack, they might dip apple slices into a little Nutella and yet they don’t have the false impression that the Nutella part of that treat is actually healthy.

    We’re such a litigation-happy culture, aren’t we?

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