The McCormick company sells dried spices that can make your food taste a little better. Which should be enough to sell their product, but it apparently is not–because, in their current series of commercials, they’re also pushing vague, possibly meaningless health benefits. Their buzzword of choice? Antioxidants.
In a new series of “Spices for Health” ads that air during programming on Hulu, as well as on actual television, McCormick carefully highlights the high level of antioxidants found in their spices. Never do they say what the antioxidants do, nor do they ever actually use the words “healthy.” In fact, if you listen carefully, there’s hardly a claim to be made at all, except that antioxidants are present.
And don’t get me wrong–antioxidants (like the kinds found in fruits and veggies, as well as spices) are an actual thing, which have been shown to do good things for the immune system, digestive tract, and general wellbeing. But quantity is important to consider. According to McCormick’s own calculations (from their “Science Institute–sounds legit, right?), cinnamon and oregano are high in antioxidants by volume–higher than most foods. And while it’s true that 3 cups of spinach has as many antioxidants as a teaspoon of oregano (which is still kind of a lot for a single serving), spinach also come with iron, fiber, vitamins, calcium, and the many benefits that fresh veggies provide. Because, you know, it’s a vegetable. Oregano is simply no replacement for vegetables with dinner–but this ad might lead you to believe otherwise.
What McCormick (and their ad agency) knows is that “antioxidant” is also kind of a code-word for “healthy,” which can be misleading to say, those people at home who see a commercial from McCormick that recommends adding oregano to grilled cheese and calling it dinner. And even though high-antioxidant foods have been shown to minimize the unhealthy effects of a fatty meal (like, say, a grilled cheese sandwich), the teaspoon that they recommend isn’t going to do it…nor, unless you also add a tomato like the photo above, is it going to make the meal contain any actual vegetables or non-dairy protein.
Consumers want to believe that they are eating healthy. In fact, they will look for any way to convince themselves that they’re eating a balanced diet, and vague statements like “McCormick spices have antioxidants” sounds, to many nutritionally-illiterate folks, awfully similar to “McCormick spices make your meal healthier.” Even if no such claim is ever made.
McCormick isn’t lying, and it’s unlikely that anyone who gets cancer can sue because they were mislead into thinking that the herbs and spices that the company sells would prevent it. But it is important to make note of this kind of vague, waffley “health” claims when they crop up–because, the more you pay attention, the more you realize how many companies want you to think that their product is making you healthier.