In an ad in Tuesday's New York Times, Unilever's Promise brand takes on competitor Smart Balance with a headline reading: "Smart Balance is Natural? The Ingredients Disagree." The rest of the ad asserts that Smart Balance -- which employs advertising that states: "We think natural tastes better" -- has an ingredients list that includes vegetable monoglycerides, sorbitan ester of fatty acids and artificial flavors. "Promise has less saturated fat and more Omega-3s than Smart Balance," the ad says before concluding with the line, "Now that's smart."
Representatives from Unilever and Smart Balance did not return calls regarding the ad, but Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and author of the book Food Politics, cautioned that such ads should be viewed through a very skeptical lens.
"This sounds like it is more about market share than health," Nestle tells Marketing Daily. "Both of these are, alas, margarines made of soy or some other oil with additives that are associated with cholesterol reduction in clinical trials."
She notes that both products make their claims of health through their inclusion in a healthy diet. "Whatever marginal nutritional difference they have can't possibly matter to health," she says. "This seems to me to be part of the ferocity of food marketing these days. If you can't sell the foods on their own, tear into your competitors and see if that can generate sales."