Cars genetically modified while you wait

Well paint me green and call me Gumby. I never thought I’d see the day when ‘genetically modified’ was actually used as a selling point for a product in the Western world. Normally, on the hierarchy of characteristics worth advertising, marketers place ‘genetically modified’ alongside ‘made of 100% puppy tears’ and ‘may cause genital herpes’. While you watch this ad, I shall go and promptly eat my hat.


Oddly, this actually works. It may be argued that, in this case, the use of ‘genetically modified’ does not cast its usual ominous cloud because everybody knows that cars don’t really have genes. It’s symbolism. True. But the reason runs much deeper than that. This ad works with the common emotional and value distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’. The common thought reads like this: Cars are machines – unnatural lumps of technology, where adjustments and engineering symbolise value-adding. Tinkering is a bonus. Yet food is meant to be natural – wholesome, spontaneous, unrefined. Tinkering is dangerous.

Wait. OK. Now everybody stop. I may have got ahead of myself. So “…everybody knows that cars don’t really have genes”? Apparently not.

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Making science sexy: truth, falsehoods and dunce caps

Science: a brand under pressure

Today I’m turning the tables, looking at how science uses advertising, rather than how science is used by advertising. Of course, contrary to the tone of much public debate, science is not a single, monolithic entity. But it is still, in the broadest sense of the word, a ‘brand’. It is a collection of beliefs, practices, knowledge and ways of thinking competing to ‘sell’ itself in a market of conflicting worldviews.

Just as it has throughout history, the science brand is enduring a public relations crisis. It is being beaten up in debates around issues like climate change, while struggling against its dunce cap, coke-bottle glasses, socks-and-sandals reputation for utter ‘uncoolness’. It ought to be a marketer’s dream. Science is a brand just waiting to be picked up, dusted off, painted the hero and sent the bill. Yet there are surprisingly few examples of the promotion of science through advertising. But we will now look at a few.

A risky but brilliant manoeuvre

First, my favourite piece of science advertising to date:

No lab-rat stereotypes. No blue-tinged lab equipment shots. The acknowledgement that life exists outside the lab. The ‘everyman’ voiceover. No fundraising sob-story. A refreshing dose of humour. It’s unique. It’s brilliant. It’s genius. I initially wondered whether people may take poorly to the basic premise: ‘People are idiots. But we’re not. So give us money, so we can keep your idiot brains ticking’. But I’m comforted to think that people offended by such a clearly tongue-in-cheek strategy were probably never in the market to donate to scientific research.

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Chemicals – The Devil’s Spawn?

These days the ludicrous phrase ‘chemical-free’ is bandied around by companies in just about every imaginable industry, about every imaginable product. Products currently claiming to be ‘chemical-free’ range from fertilisers and shampoos to ice-cream, clothing, eggs and wine…yes – wine. Chemical-free wine: it’s like wine, minus the fun part. But never – NEVER – in all my wildest cynical fantasies, did I expect that the ‘chemical-free’ craze would reach this pinnacle of utter buzz-killing, oxymoronic lunacy:

A chemical-free CHEMISTRY kit?!?!?! Are you KIDDING ME? Never have I so deeply desired to shave my head and run away to India to ‘find myself’ – citing the end of logic, common sense, scientific rationality, childhood, and the space-time continuum as we knew them. The world has gone bonkers.

In a time when ‘chemical-free’ is a marketing point for chemistry kits, chemicals are clearly embroiled in a PR crisis of ‘News of the World’ proportions.  Such a huge PR crisis calls for a total image make-over, complete with something quite novel to sci-jacking advertisers: facts.

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Detox Foot Pads: Science vs Vinegar

If you’ve ever had then insatiable desire to leak cellulite from your feet, then this is the post for you. On the back of my previous post (recommended pre-reading), today I’ll be looking at one example of how the detox industry hijacks science for sales: detox foot pads. Brands that produce this sham product include Kinoki (US), Champneys (UK) and Avon (multiple countries). This Kinoki TV ad accurately captures the scientific pantomime common to the advertising of all of these brands.

There are many things in this ad that make me chuckle. The fact that ‘alcohol’ is spelt ‘alchohol’ and ‘alcholol’ in the same table. The fact that reflexology is an ancient Chinese practice, not a Japanese one. And the first sentence – “Are you poisoning yourself with unavoidable toxins from the food, water and air we breathe”. Wait, I’m supposed to be breathing my food and water? The part that sounds like a reading from the crumpled feminine hygiene pamphlet stashed in the bottom of a year 7 girl’s schoolbag: “use a fresh pad each night until the pad becomes lighter and lighter, and you’ll feel better and better”.

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Every Commercial Detox is a ‘Lemon’ Detox

Every commercial detox is a lemon detox

Pollution. Grandma’s bread and butter pudding. Being aromatically assaulted by the bedroom of a teenage boy. Debauchery. Fried dim sims. Just some of the many reasons modern life feels – frankly – toxic. It is from this cesspool  that the bogus ‘detox’ industry has grown. And with it, a symphony of shrill, pseudoscientific advertising.

Diets, pills, shakes, facial scrubs, foot baths and the pinnacle of the traumatic mental image – colonic irrigation. That very image is the reason I stopped snooping in other people’s bathroom cupboards for tissues.

The detox industry claims, without evidence, that various aspects of modern life – fatty foods, insecticides, alcohol, water, breathing, touching tortoise shells – deposit toxins in the body. These toxins allegedly accumulate in the body over time, causing harm. Various opportunistic companies produce products (twice as ‘bioactive’/’organoresinant’/’cellutropic’ as all our competitors!) that allegedly remove these toxins from the body quickly and easily.

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