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Blogging scandal offers brands food for thought

We are living in an age where consumers are more discerning than ever when it comes to what they eat, and what they feed their families. Trust and transparency in food have never been so important. Which is why the language and storytelling of food marketing, once opaque, is going through something of a transformation, as evidenced by brands such as Chipotle.

This has been driven in part by the booming trend of detox blogs, created by ordinary people who are passionate about the importance of knowing exactly what they are putting into their bodies. For the most part, these creators use words that any reader can understand; accessibility is key. But what we tend to forget amid the Twitter and Facebook and WordPress accounts is that having a hobby and being an expert are two very different things.

This difference was made starkly clear in a very public way this month, when popular blogger Vani Hari, aka ‘Food Babe’, became the subject of a Gawker piece entitled ‘The Food Babe Blogger Is Full Of Shit’. The article, written by analytical chemist Yvette d’Entremont, describes Hari as “the worst assault on science on the internet” and goes into detail on the many inaccuracies and even flat-out fabrications that can be found in her work.

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Hari clearly represents an extreme end of the food-conscious spectrum, accusing her critics of being in shady alliances with major food corporations, and spouting baffling commandments such as; “If a third grader can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.” But, as AdWeek writer Patrick Coffee points out, this debacle does pose a serious question about the credibility of bloggers vs that of brands.

“The credibility crisis can’t be pinned entirely on experts with dubious credentials; brands themselves bear a large part of the blame,” he says. “Classic taglines and fad phrases like ‘eat fresh’, ‘all-natural flavour’ and ‘low fat’ represent the very sort of miscommunication that inspired the rise of Food Babe and others like her in the first place.”

However, there is no getting away from the fact that Food Babe and the brands she so reviles are, by and large, trying to reach the same people. “Talk to me like a real person,” says ad agency director Ellis Verdi in Coffee’s article. Speaking simply and authentically to people gains bloggers the trust and loyalty of thousands. As advertising in the food industry leans more and more towards sustainability and transparency, it might not be such a bad idea for brands to think a little bit more like bloggers – as long as they get their facts straight.


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