How Fast Food Buzzwords Fool Consumers

Fast food restaurants try really hard to fool us into thinking their foods are good for us, as counter-intuitive as that may be. It starts with the images in their commercials where the foods are glistening with each slice of tomato, lettuce, and grilled chicken breast or burger nicely stacked on top of each other.

Then you have some of the buzzwords that they use. This part really gets under my skin because it’s such a brazen way of being deceptive – walking that tight rope of legality, while using words that imply the other words that they can’t actually use!

So, when a fast food commercial wants to tell you that their foods are healthy, but obviously can’t, they go for the next best thing: words like wholesome, fresh, all-natural, premium, or 100 percent whatever.

McDonald’s refers to its new oatmeal breakfast as a “bowl full of wholesome,” but it’s been found to have “more sugar than a Snickers bar,” according to Mark Bittman of the New York Times. Oh, and it only has 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

The irony may be that fast food restaurants are actually better off with the subliminally healthy buzz terms than the actual ones.

“More traditional health claims on the menu tend to get an adverse reaction by the customer because they associate healthy claims like low-fat with less taste,” said Darren Tristano, exec VP at Technomic, a restaurant consultancy company.

So are we simply the ones to blame? I can get why low-fat claims could be bad as a marketing tactic. Where Tristano loses me is when he says that claims such as “low-fat” and “low-carb” don’t work anymore because, according to an article at, “today’s consumers are more educated about nutrition and are looking for ways to live healthier lifestyles as opposed to just dieting.”

So, people have suddenly given up on dieting? Really? If so, I need to see hard data to be convinced of this claim. Otherwise, how do you explain diet fad after diet fad hitting the market… successfully, I might add. hCG, anyone?


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