MONEY consumer psychology

Why JetBlue Can Break Your Heart, but Comcast Never Will

JetBlue Planes
Seth Wenig—AP

It hurts to find out that brands like JetBlue want you to love them—but they only love you for your money.

This week, JetBlue announced it’s adding more seats on planes and new fees for checked baggage. The moves are clearly aimed at hiking profits—which is what businesses are supposed to do, right?

So why, then, has JetBlue’s policy change been met with outrage and a sense of betrayal? Isn’t JetBlue just a business that’s, you know, in the business of making money? Shouldn’t we fully expect these kind of profit-first policies? And if this kind of behavior is to be expected, why would there ever be any sense of surprise or disappointment, let alone heartbreak?

The subject brings to mind the old fable “The Farmer and the Viper,” in which a farmer nurses a freezing snake back to health—and is then promptly bitten and killed by the snake as soon as it has the opportunity. The moral is that you shouldn’t be surprised, and you certainly shouldn’t feel betrayed, when a snake behaves like a snake. A similar takeaway comes from the disturbing 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man,” which tells the tale of a man and his girlfriend who were killed, in essence, because a bear behaved like a bear.

The complication is that consumers don’t necessarily view brands that we interact with regularly as animals that will take advantage of us whenever the opportunity arises. We’re encouraged to “like” brands on Facebook, and marketers spend billions to try to get us to love brands, ideally with a cult-like fervor. We tend to view favorite brands as trusted partners or even friends, and we can feel violated and betrayed to the core when the terms of what can be a very warm partnership are exposed as more “strictly business,” to quote The Godfather.

“Some brands are so good at connecting with consumers on an emotional level that the relationship feels incredibly personal, much like a friendship,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and TIME and MONEY contributor. “In most cases the consumers feel they share the same values as the brand, which they see as manifesting human characteristics.”

This certainly seems the case for JetBlue and its longtime customers. The brand resonated and indeed became beloved because of the perks (free TVs and snacks for everyone) and amenities (leather seats and plenty of legroom all around) as much as because of its overriding ethos that all customers were valued—and valued equally. What helped make JetBlue stand out and become an industry darling is that its competitors in the airline business are notorious for exceptionally poor customer service, especially in regards to passengers who are paying the least for their flights.

Slowly, though, JetBlue tweaked its business model—adding a business class and adding more fees recently—and with this week’s announcement about shrinking legroom and the addition of baggage fees, it’s clear that the values originally embraced by the brand have changed as well. For the people who loved and were loyal to JetBlue specifically because of its egalitarian, customers-first approach, the latest moves serve as a big slap in the face with the cold-hearted reality that shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but hurts nonetheless: Brands like JetBlue want you to love them, but they only love you for your money.

Experts who study marketing and company-consumer relationships believe that brands that have developed cult-like followings for supposedly doing things the right and honorable way—Chipotle and Whole Foods come to mind—are likely to feel greater backlash if and when they appear to violate customers’ trust. “Our theory is that the people who feel most betrayed are the ones who were most attached to the brand in the first place,” says Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the USC Marshall School of Business who is researching brand betrayal with colleagues.

By and large, consumers tend to get most attached to scrappy smaller brands with a streak of independence—brands they can identify with and feel good about supporting. “We love underdog stories,” says MacInnis. “We see ourselves as underdogs. We love the little guy, so there’s a natural brand connection.” It’s a connection that goes beyond a mere mutually beneficial economic transaction.

On the other hand, brands that are monolithic and fail to develop long-lasting loyalty or affection—big banks, pay TV and wireless providers, and yes, airlines come to mind—are less at risk of betraying customers’ trust because there was little to no trust to begin with. “You’re not likely to feel betrayed when a cable company treats you poorly,” says MacInnis. “You’ll shake it off and jump” to a competitor without blinking (assuming another one is actually available). “The transgressions are par for the course.”

It’s all about expectations: When someone we thought of as a friend turns out to be just another snake, it’s heartbreaking. Hence, the presence of several “Et Tu, JetBlue?” headlines out there, indicating that the once beloved airline’s betrayal is one of epic proportions.

“When consumers sense they’ve been used or manipulated they feel a burn more similar to a human betrayal than simple transactional disappointment,” says Yarrow. However, bigger, widely bashed brands are “lucky” enough to disappoint customers so frequently that there’s no surprise or sense of betrayal when they make yet another profit-first, customer-unfriendly move. “Consumers have such low expectations of Comcast, for example, they are thrilled when there simply aren’t problems.”

MONEY groceries

Rumors Are Flying of a Thanksgiving Turkey Shortage

Turkeys in a grocery store
Richard Levine—Alamy

You may have heard that there's a turkey shortage, and that prices are rising just in time for Thanksgiving. Hogwash.

Supermarkets have plenty of turkeys, and prices are incredibly cheap right now. How cheap? How about 79¢ per pound? That’s what the Kroger chain of supermarkets is offering in a special deal valid through Thanksgiving, so long as the customer buys an additional $35 or more in groceries.

If that’s too pricey, check out the offer from Meijer: When a customer spends at least $20 in the store, the chain’s own brand of turkeys are 50% off, which translates to 54¢ per pound for frozen birds and 98¢ per pound for fresh ones. In competitive markets such as western Michigan, meanwhile, some local grocery stores are selling turkeys for as little as 49¢ a pound. The latest Stop & Shop circular is advertising frozen turkeys for 59¢ per pound with a $25 purchase, and the chain says it will match the turkey prices of any grocery competitor. Yet another large player in the grocery field, Hy-Vee, has a coupon valid for a free 10- to 14-lb. Honeysuckle White Turkey for customers who purchase a Hormel whole ham. And ShopRite is giving reward club members a free turkey once the customer meets certain spending requirements (usually $400) over a period of a few weeks.

So why are so many headlines are making the rounds lately indicating that turkey is getting expensive?

It’s true that production is down, and that wholesale prices are up for turkey. But the important takeaway for shoppers is that neither of these factors is necessarily translating to rising prices in stores.

Due to long periods of drought and rising prices for feed, production of all manner of livestock has been on the decline in recent years. Beef prices, for instance, have increased to the point that consumers needed smart strategies to keep barbecue costs down over the summer. The Associated Press recently reported that American farmers will produce a total of 235 million turkeys this year, “the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.”

It sounds pretty dire. And yet, there’s nothing remotely true about the idea of there being a turkey “shortage,” as some have called it. A shortage means there’s not enough to go around—that the supply can’t keep up with demand. But as no less an authority than the National Turkey Federation noted that Americans collectively consumed 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving 2012, and 210 million turkeys during the year as a whole. That, combined with the fact that there are ample supplies of turkeys at supermarkets all over the country, should dispel any claims of a “shortage.”

As far as prices go, wholesale prices may be rising—reportedly up 12% in October compared with last year—but, as USDA agriculture economist David Harvey explained to the AP, “There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at.”

This year—and every year around this time—supermarkets use turkeys as “loss leaders.” The stores advertise exceptionally low prices on turkeys, knowing that doing so will be a draw for customers. The grocers don’t care if they make little or no money, or even if they lose money, on turkey sales; shoppers who come for turkeys almost always buy plenty more groceries when they’re in the stores, especially when they’re required to do so, as the best deals stipulate, and it’s in these purchases where the supermarkets make their money.

What’s more, the idea that there is a turkey shortage and/or that turkey prices are soaring is a myth that pops up regularly around this time of year. Last year’s “shortage” turned out to be hype because, once anyone read past the headlines, it was clear that even as the supply of one particular kind of turkey had declined, the vast majority of turkeys (and consumers) were completely unaffected.

In a story published today by the New Jersey Star Ledger, Ashley Myers, co-owner of Ashley Farms, is quoted laughing off the idea of there being a shortage of turkeys. “They say that every year,” she said.

And every year, everyone who wants to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving is able to buy a turkey very easily, generally at very low prices—or even free. This year is no exception.

MONEY investing strategy

12 Business Books You Should Read Right Now

Stack of books on pedestal
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/Caiaimage

The surprising key to business success: reading.

Reading is the best way to gain experience without having been there yourself. As Warren Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger said, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads — at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” While there are mounds of terrible business books out there, there are some hidden gems. Read on for what I think are the best 12 business books and why you should read them.

Self-improvement

1. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Carnegie’s classic book was first published in 1936 and remains a best-seller today . The crux is Carnegie’s idea that “the person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people — that person is headed for higher earning power.” Buffett took a course on the book when he was 20 and said the experience “changed my life.”

2. Choose Yourself! by James Altucher
In this book, Altucher demonstrates that it’s up to you, and easier than ever, to take charge of your life and create both inward and outward success. He offers lessons learned through accounts of the trials, tribulations, and heartbreaks of his own life.

Leadership and management

1. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
This is the classic management book by business guru Drucker. For Drucker, executives’ key job is to “get the right things done.” He identifies five essential practices to business effectiveness for executives: “managing time, choosing what to contribute, knowing where and how to mobilize strength, setting the right priorities, and effective decision-making.” A favorite of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, this book offers many valuable lessons.

2. Turn This Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
Marquet was a submarine captain who turned around the USS Santa Fe from the worst submarine in the U.S. Navy to the best. The book teaches timeless principles of empowering leadership. Fortune Magazine called the book the “best how-to manual anywhere for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution.”

Strategy

1. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
The book teaches the theory of disruptive innovation and why great companies fail when they ignore disruptive products in their competitive space. A favorite of Bezos, Steve Jobs, and countless other great CEOs, the book challenges conventional wisdom on what businesses should be focused on and when they should deviate from business as normal.

2. Competition Demystified by Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn
Written by the current head of the Columbia Business School’s Value Investing program, Bruce Greenwald, this book presents a way to analyze the competitive structure of any industry, and pairs it with the idea of moats, market niches, and competitive advantage.

Marketing

1. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
This book could also be titled defense against the dark arts of marketing and persuasion. It explains the psychology of marketing and persuasion, which you can learn for using yourself or for defending yourself against it. In the early 1990s, Charlie Munger gave a series of talks on the psychology of human misjudgment (which have been combined and condensed in his book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack ) in which he heaped praise on the book for filling gaps in his knowledge. This is the book that I give most often as a present and is my top recommendation on this list.

2. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
The book that made the word “remarkable” clear to me (worth remarking on). This book delves into the importance of differentiation and of creating things that other people find worth pointing out. I would also highly recommend Seth Godin’s blog where he has published once a day for 12 years now.

Entrepreneurship

1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Written by a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, this book doesn’t sugarcoat how hard it is to run your own business. Filled with practical wisdom from Horowitz’s business experiences, including the near failure of his own company, this is a worthwhile read for aspiring entrepreneurs and managers alike.

2. Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
This book came out of the notes Masters took when Thiel (founder of PayPal, Palantir, Thiel Fellows and Clarium Capital, and lead investor in Facebook) taught a Stanford University class on start-ups. The book title comes from the idea that “Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1.” You can read the book, or go straight to the notes if you are curious.

General business

1. Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
The book on rethinking how businesses work. This book provides a new framework for thinking about how businesses create and capture value through an intense look at how customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, costs, and a business’s core value proposition all interconnect.

2. The Essays of Warren Buffett by Warren Buffett and Lawrence A. Cunningham
Buffett has long been praised for his concise writing and easy-to-understand metaphors of complex business concepts. This book compiles and condenses the best of Buffett’s letters to investors and other writings into a single book organized thematically. Everyone can learn from this book, but I would still highly recommend investors read Buffett’s collected letters to shareholders in full; they can be found on the Berkshire Hathaway website.

Learning is the key to success

The most successful people in the world become that way by continuously learning and improving themselves. It doesn’t happen overnight. Pick one of these books and start reading, you will be surprised at how much you’ll learn.

TIME Internet

7 Incredible Viral Moments That Turned Out to Be Marketing Stunts

130883718
Businessman sitting in front of his laptop, angry Getty Images

Social marketing schemes will break your heart

There have been a lot of questions about whether or not overnight Internet darling ‘Alex from Target‘ is a real viral sensation or a just a marketing ploy. Here are 7 other viral sensations that broke our hearts when we found out they weren’t real:

Dumb Starbucks

In February, a “Dumb Starbucks” opened its doors in Los Angeles. Not only did the Internet freak out, but people actually got out from behind their computers to line up around the block to order Dumb Espressos and buy Dumb Norah Jones CDs. Then it turned out to be part of a Comedy Central show hosted by comedian Nathan Fielder. Womp womp.

Bar for Pregnant Women

The Internet was horrified when pictures of Gestations, the self-proclaimed “first bar for pregnant women,” began making the rounds on Twitter. “It may just be a tasteless advertising gimmick,” the New York Post wrote. And it was. Gestations, soon replaced by Blackbox bar for on-duty pilots, was just a way for an app called Bartendr to drum up publicity.

Worst Twerk Fail

A YouTube video showing a girl catching on fire after attempting to twerk upside down racked up 9 million views in just six days. It was featured on The View and The Today Show. And then Jimmy Kimmel revealed it was all a stunt for his show, and the woman was a literal stunt woman.

Hoverboard was a lie

In March, people were convinced that hoverboards were about to become a reality. And then Funny or Die released a statement declaring that the ad was fake. “Sadly, we were lying,” the liars explained.

20 Strangers Kissing

A beautiful, seemingly sincere video showing strangers — gay and straight, young and — meeting and then kissing garnered 42 million YouTube views in four days. And then the world found out that it was actually an ad for a clothing company. Love isn’t real. Trust no one.

Evan Longoria’s Bare Hand Catch

Baseball player Evan Longoria saved a reporter’s life by catching a ball speeding towards her head with his bare hand. Except he didn’t because it was a stunt for Gillette.

Ellen’s Celebrity Selfie at the Oscars

If you put the world’s most famous actors together in a picture, it’s hardly surprising that it will become the most retweeted selfie ever. But was Ellen’s “spontaneous” Oscars moment really that spontaneous? Or was it an ad for event sponsor Samsung? Ish. Samsung spent an estimated $20 million on the show, and marketing chief Todd Pendleton told Adweek that it planned to have Ellen take a selfie with Meryl Streep using a Samsung smartphone. Ellen may have upped the stakes, but it was, essentially, an ad.

TIME marketing

Lysol Scrubs Ebola-Prevention Claims From Its Website

Ebola Virus
A colorized transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus is seen in this CDC handout. Center for Disease Control—Getty Images

After Lysol ads appeared in Google searches for 'Ebola'

A banner image of the Ebola virus spans the homepage of Lysol.com, but the company has tempered its language and shied away from claims that its disinfectants can prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.

The cleaning product company positioned a Lysol advertisement in prime real estate above Google search results for “Ebola,” Vice Motherboard first reported on Tuesday. But as media scrutiny intensified, the ad vanished and Lysol scrubbed away some of the bolder claims from its website to “ensure there is no confusion about the role of Lysol and Ebola,” a company representative told CNN.

The headline on Lysol’s homepage, which once read, “Safeguarding Against the Spread of Ebola,” now directs readers to “Find information from the CDC.” A link to the company’s “Ebola Update” page offers Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that sidle up to the question of which disinfectants “are likely to kill Ebola,” while cautioning that none of Lysol’s products have been specifically tested against the virus.

A company spokesperson told CNN the intent of the update was to direct customers to information from the CDC. “We are not trying to over-claim anything,” the spokesperson said.

TIME marketing

Watch These Little Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism

Because there are worse words than curse words

Think the F-word is a dirty word? These little girls can think of a few that are worse — like “pay inequality” or “rape and violence.”

But there’s a reason for their potty-mouthed exclamations — these young girls, dressed up in princess costumes, are cursing to protest inequalities that are even more shocking than curse words. The video was made by FCKH8.com, a for-profit company that produces clothing that advocates for social change. And while FCKH8 is famous for equality-themed T-shirts like “Some Chicks Marry Chicks” and “Straight Against Hate,” this particular video is meant to promote its feminist line, with T-shirts that say things like “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun – damental rights.”

You can watch the whole video here.

TIME behavior

Breaking Bad Action Figures? Really, Toys R Us?

No, you're not hallucinating, that really is a Walter White doll.
No, you're not hallucinating, that really is a Walter White doll.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

In a spectacularly bad bit of judgment, the big box store puts a meth manufacturer on its shelves.

Human history is often defined by its very worst pitch meetings. Take the one in 1812, when one of Napoleon’s generals told the Great Emperor, “I’ve got an idea. Let’s invade Russia—in the winter!” Or the one in 1985, when the anonymous product developer at Coca-Cola said, “How ’bout we take a product everyone loves, quit making it and replace it with a different formulation no one is asking for! What could go wrong?”

So too it must have gone in the executive suites of Toys R Us, when someone made the compelling case for stocking a brand-new line of action figures based on the wildly successful Breaking Bad series. After all, nothing quite says holiday shopping like a bendable, fully costumed figurine of Walter White—the murderous chemistry teacher turned crystal meth manufacturer—and Jesse Pinkman, his former student and current bag man. And you want accessories? We’ve got accessories—including a duffle bag stuffed with imaginary cash and a plastic bag of, yes, faux crystal meth for White. Pinkman comes with a gas mask, because the folks at Toys R Us are not the kind to forget about corporate responsibility. If your kids are going to grow up to run a meth lab, it’s never too early to teach them basic safety.

It might not surprise you to learn that Toys R Us has faced a teensy bit of blowback from this curious marketing decision. Florida mom Susan Schrivjer has posted a petition on Change.org that has just exceeded 2,000 signatures, demanding that the company pull the products. She also appeared on The Today Show to make her case more publicly.

“Anything to do with drugs is not doing the right thing,” she said. “I just think they need to look at their vision and values as they call them.”

The part that’s more surprising—but sadly only a little—is that even after being called on its appalling lack of judgment, Toys R Us has not responded with the quickest, loudest, most abject oops in corporate history. Instead, it is standing its ground. Why? Because the dolls are sold only in the “adult section” of the store, of course—the ones intended for shoppers 15 and up.

OK, let’s start with the fact that Toys R Us has an adult section at all—something I never knew and I suspect many other parents didn’t either. So what will they stock there next? A line of Toys R Us hard cider? Toys R Us adult literature? A Toys R Us edition of Fifty Shades of Gray—which is really OK because hey, it actually comes with a set of 50 gray crayons? If an adult section must exist at all, at what point does full disclosure require the company to rebrand itself “Toys as Well as Other Things Not Remotely Appropriate For Children But Don’t Worry Because We Keep Them in a Separate Section, R Us”?

More important, let’s look at above-15 as the dividing line for the adult section—a distinction that makes perfect sense because if there’s anything 15 year olds are known for, it’s their solid judgment, their awareness of consequences, their exceptional impulse control and their utter imperviousness to the siren song of drugs and alcohol. Oh, and they never, ever emulate bad role models they encounter on TV, in the movies or among their peers. What’s more, kids below the age of 15 never, ever run wild in a sensory theme park like a big box toy store, finding themselves in departments not meant for them and seeing products they shouldn’t see. Toys R Us, you’ve thought this one out to the last detail!

What the company’s consumer researchers probably know and if they don’t they ought to, is that the brain’s frontal lobes—where higher order executive functions live—aren’t even fully myelinated until we reach our late 20s, which is why young people can be so spectacularly reckless, why soldiers and political firebrands tend to be young and why judges, heads of state and clerical leaders tend to be old. The adult fan of Breaking Bad might actually enjoy the new toys as collectors items–something to be bought or given as a gift with a little twinkle of irony, a this-is-so-wrong-it’s-right sort of thing. But that kind of nuance isn’t remotely within a child’s visible spectrum.

Really, Toys R Us, there is absolutely no surviving this one. Back up the truck, pack up the toys and send them to a landfill. And if you’re even thinking about following this one up with a Boardwalk Empire board game complete with a Nucky Thompson plush toy, stop now. Or at the very least, invite me to the pitch meeting.

Read next: Toys R Us ‘Breaks Bad’ with New Crystal Meth Toys

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Internet

A Marketing Firm Could Be Looking at Your Selfies

Big brand advertisers want to find their logos in your pictures

That picture you posted on Instagram from the beach last week might have more useful data in it than you think.

Where are you? What do you have in your hand? Do you look happy or sad? What are you wearing? These are all questions that can help advertisers target their marketing to consumers, so a crop of new digital marketing companies has begun analyzing photos posted on Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest and other photo-sharing sites to look for these trends and insights.

Ditto Labs Inc. uses photo-scanning software to locate logos in these personal photos (is the subject wearing a North Face jacket? Or holding a can of Coca-Cola?) and look at the context in which these brands are being used.

For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, Kraft Food Groups Inc. pays Ditto Labs to find their logos on Instagram and Tumblr. Ditto Labs then analyzes trends like what people drink when they’re eating Kraft products and how happy they appear to be. They are then placed into categories like “foodie” and “sports fan” based on how they’re eating their Kraft food.

Digital marketing firms use personal photos in other ways, too; Piquora Inc. stores massive amounts of these images over a few months to look at trends over time.

This new brand of marketing research serves as a fresh reminder that the photos we put online are public, and once we click ‘post’ we lose control over who sees them and what they’re used for. “This is an area that could be ripe for commercial exploitation and predatory marketing,” Joni Lupovitz, vice president at children’s privacy advocacy group Common Sense Media, told the Journal. “Just because you happen to be in a certain place or captured an image, you might not understand that could be used to build a profile of you online.”

TIME Advertising

Get Ready to Cry at Another Cheerios Ad About Family

This one features two dads and their adopted daughter

The newest Cheerios ad is a serious tearjerker — but in a good way. This Canadian spot tells the story of two dads, Jonathan and Andre, and their adopted daughter, Raphaelle.

At first, Jonathan and Andre talk about how they fell in love, but Andre notes “I thought that it would never be possible to have a child, given that I’m gay.” After they got together, they describe when they first decided to adopt. “We couldn’t keep all this luck and love for ourselves,” he said. “We needed to share.”

Cheerios seems enamored with the idea of fatherhood recently, after its fast-paced #HowToDad ad aired in July:

This one seems to be a more socially conscious take on that theme, more in the vein of the heart-warming ad featuring an interracial family that aired during the Superbowl (to both widespread acclaim and racist comments.)

 

 

MONEY Scams

5 Ways You’re Being Duped by Food & Drink Labels

Whiskey barrels
William Baker—Alamy

Think that "natural" food you're buying is made without artificial ingredients? Think again.

You might think that labels describing products as “local,” “craft,” and “natural” indeed mean that they’re local, craft, and natural. To a disturbing degree these days, you’d be wrong. Here are five examples of how food and drink labels can be vague, meaningless, or downright fraudulent, and how consumers are being duped as a result.

Liquor That’s “Local” and “Craft”
In a story about the emerging small-batch craft liquor trend, the Denver Post recently asked an interesting question: “Ever wonder how a brand-new distiller is offering 8-year-old whiskey?”

The answer is that the new company is buying the hooch, typically from an industrial factory in another state like Kentucky or Indiana. The truth is that often, according to the Denver Post investigation, the packaging and marketing of supposedly hand-crafted, locally produced whiskeys, vodkas, and bourbons are the only things actually concocted by the company on the label. In related news, a class-action lawsuit in Iowa against the makers of Templeton Rye whiskey received approval to proceed this week; the suit alleges that consumers were tricked into believing the product was made in Iowa when in fact it was made in an Indiana factory.

Critics say that most of the rapidly growing legions of new players in the craft liquor space are mere marketers, not manufacturers, and that they intentionally mislead buyers into thinking the booze is made in-house. Sometimes the language on labels is an indication—the words “produced by” rather than “distilled by” may be a giveaway that the brand doesn’t make its own product—while other times the labels are even more vague or simply false, and the hope is that no one really unearths the truth.

Thankfully, authentic craft liquor makers tend to be geeky types who dwell on every last detail of production and happily run through the process step by step on websites and tours. If you’re unsure about a brand and want to know more about how the product came to be, all you likely have to do is ask.

“Local” Farmers Markets
When you buy, say, kale at a farmers market, it’s reasonable to assume the kale is grown at the farm whose representatives are doing the selling. But perhaps you shouldn’t jump to such conclusions.

One apprentice who worked farmers’ markets for his employer in New England explained in a confession published by Modern Farmer that he was unknowingly selling kale that came from a farm in Georgia. The New England farm was also passing off Canadian asparagus and California salad greens as its own “local” produce at farmers markets. The confessor confronted his boss about the produce of questionable origins, and “he said that not all of it was coming from the farm, that some of it was coming from other farms, and I asked was it coming from local farms and he said some of it was not.”

Previous investigations, in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Detroit, revealed pretty much the same: farmers passing off produce from somewhere far away as home grown and local.

“Natural” Foods
More and more, American consumers say that eating healthier diets is important to them. According to the 2014 Food & Health Survey, taste and price are be the two biggest reasons people purchase food and beverages (listed by 90% and 73% of consumers, respectively), but the healthfulness of what’s put inside one’s body is catching up as a key factor: 71% said it was very important, compared with 61% in 2012.

Quite naturally, many of these health-minded consumers are likely to be drawn to foods labeled as “natural.” There’s just one problem: The word means pretty much … nothing. Consumer Reports found that three out of five consumers check specifically for “natural” products, “despite there being no federal or third-party verified label for this term.” And this summer, the consumer advocacy group decided to do something about the fact that millions are seemingly being misled into believing the term “natural” only applies to foods that are made without pesticides, artificial ingredients, or genetically modified organisms.

“Due to overwhelming and ongoing consumer confusion around the natural food label, we are launching a new campaign to kill the natural label because our poll underscores that it is misleading, confusing, and deceptive,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, said in a statement in July. “We also don’t believe it is necessary to define natural when there is already another label—organic—that comes much closer to meeting consumer expectations and is accompanied by legal accountability.”

Any Kind of Fish You’re Buying
An alarming study released last year by the nonprofit group Oceana showed that the mislabeling of seafood sold in restaurants, sushi shops, and supermarkets happens all the time. In a study covering 21 states around the country, one-third of all samples were listed as the wrong kind of fish—the “snapper” turned out to be rockfish, for instance. Restaurants in northern California misidentified fish in a whopping 58% of the samples taken, while Pennsylvania was the worst state overall, with 56% of the seafood in grocery stores and restaurants turning out to be something other than what was listed on menus and pricing labels.

Meanwhile, a series of Boston Globe stories that predate the Oceana study also showed that restaurants and supermarkets routinely mislabel the seafood they sell. Investigators followed up that analysis with another study indicating that shoppers were regularly paying too much for seafood in supermarkets because the fish weight (and therefore, price) was inflated thanks to ice being factored in during the weighing process. In all likelihood, this means that some consumers have been charged excessively for seafood for two separate reasons—because of ice skewing the true amount they were paying for, and because they were duped into thinking they were getting a pricier kind of fish.

“Craft” Beer
Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Goose Island are beer brands that claim to be authentic craft beers, and many consumers assume that’s what they’re getting. Yet all three brands are owned by the world’s two biggest brewing companies—MillerCoors for the first two, and AnheuserBusch InBev in the case of Goose Island. In other words, these brews fall under the domain of the same companies manufacturing and marketing Coors Light and Budweiser, brands that are as mass-market and non-craft as you can get.

Amid the rapidly growing craft beer craze, it’s understandable that bigger companies would try to cash in on the trend by selling brews that appear to be made with personal care and “small batch” appeal. Just as understandably, the independent craft beer community, as embodied by the Colorado-based Brewers Association, has taken umbrage at the way that multinational corporations are trying to stealthily pass off mass-produced “crafty” beers as true craft product.

Related:
That Craft Beer You’re Drinking Isn’t Craft Beer. Do You Care?
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