I won a Dr Pepper T-shirt.
When I was 6.
For some reason, the memory converges with the old soda commercial* where the man is crawling through the desert and finds a vending machine. In my mind, my family and I were out in the middle of a desert when we came upon a Dr Pepper vending machine.
It was more likely outside a Dillons.
But the Dr Pepper machine said, “Win a free T-shirt in a soda can!”
I wanted that T-shirt. I wanted that T-shirt like I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John.
I believed I would win it. My mother said, “Betty, you won’t win the T-shirt. No one wins those things. They’re fake.”
But she gave me the quarter and the dime. And I won.
Interestingly, Diet Dr Pepper is absolutely THE only soft drink I will occasionally partake in these days. (Everyone’s allowed a vice, right? It could be heroin worse.) Is it brand loyalty for the totally rad T-shirt I won 30 years ago? Maybe.
But we’re past that now.
Companies can’t buy us off with silly little promotions. Brand loyalty doesn’t come with a free T-shirt anymore. We’re smart. We’re savvy. We expect transparency and honesty.
We don’t buy the bull-pucky We turn our backs at deception. Don’t we?
Have Big Brands Lost Your Trust?
How do you feel about name brand foods and cosmetics these days?
Revlon? Kraft? Chanel? Johnson & Johnson?
Are any of those brands synonymous with trustworthiness to you? Heart? Accountability?
Gotta be honest here, somewhere in the last 20 years, every single big corporation has lost my trust. Every single one.
Between high fructose corn syrup in all of our foodstuffs, phthalates in our cosmetics, and petroleum byproducts in our bath items, name a big corporation that hasn’t ever put one of those things in their products.
Moreover, big corporations don’t even seem to care. Bottom line is money, and you don’t make money by caring.
Except you do.
Today. In this world of social media and internets and a sweeping call by consumers for authenticity and honesty.
Sadly, I see corporations take advantage of that often – the outreach to bloggers often seems like no less than a bribe to me.
I have high standards, and those, sadly, aren’t really where the money lies at the moment. I will never, ever in a million years pimp a product I don’t fully believe in. I won’t write anything – ever again (since my sell-out copywriting days) – that I don’t believe in just to make a buck.
In fact, I took down a very popular ad network that was actually making money here, simply because some of the brands that advertised didn’t mesh with my beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong, I love free stuff and money just as much as the next person, but it has to come from somewhere that meets my high standards. It has to come from a company that embodies social consciousness.
More often than not, those companies are small. They were born of a desire to be true to themselves and their passion. They haven’t grown into soulless money-making machines that have to support shareholders and hundreds of janitors and account executives and marketing managers and data entry clerks.
They know why they went into business, and they’ve stuck to their authentic, caring guns regardless of the bounty corporate shenanigans might bring them.
The companies that have real people that you can talk to. See. Hear. Tweet. Call. (And, no, I don’t buy the new Johnson & Johnson commercials where they try to appeal as “just a family who runs a business.” Sorry, corporations. You can’t just wipe out 20 years of goliath wrongdoing with a family portrait.)
Natural Products and the Corporate Takeover
So maybe you’re not as leery of corporate brands as I am. Maybe you just want to buy your stuff and move on with your life.
That’s all fine and dandy. I mean that. I don’t wish this obsessive label-checking, eyebrow-raising, 3-hour-a-day-researching life on anyone. It’s exhausting.
However, I think it behooves us all to know who owns some of the brand name “natural companies” that you see on the store shelves these days.
Corporations keep the mergers on the hush-hush as much as possible, and you’ll never find admission of corporate ownership on much of the product containers. Which, in my mind, makes it all so very suspect and completely devoid of transparency.
The exact opposite of what consumers demand in this day and age.
It also REALLY speaks about these companies’ true commitment to making healthy, conscious products. When you look at the other offerings by these giant corporations, you know that there’s no commitment whatsoever. It’s like having one healthy finger on a disease-ravaged body. What good is it – really?
Natural Brands Owned by Big Corporations
Tom’s of Maine: Owned by Colgate-Palmolive. Also the makers of Ajax, Speed Stick, Teen Spirit, and Fab.
Burt’s Bees: Owned by Clorox. The story of Burt’s Bees is just so heartwarming, it was crushing to see it sell to a company that makes products that are extremely questionably safe in environmental and personal health.
Kashi, Bear Naked and Morningstar Farms: Owned by Kellogg’s.
Odwalla: Owned by Coca-Cola.
Back to Nature: Owned by Kraft.
Naked Juice: Owned by Pepsi.
Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen: Owned by General Mills.
Alexia Foods: Owned by ConAgra.
And there are other less offensive (in my mind) corporations that own natural brands – like Hershey’s owns Dagoba and Cadbury owns Green & Black chocolate.
These are just the big ‘uns. If you want to see a really fantastic chart, take a look at this baby.
What’s the Big Deal?
Well, the big deal – to me – is transparency. You’d have never guessed any of those, would you? You’d have never known.
Corporations know that their image is tarnished. They also know that the savvy people who want natural, organic food and personal care products have lost faith and trust in them.
So they hide it.
And if they’re hiding the fact that they own these brands, what else are they hiding? Maybe nothing.
But let’s put it this way: If I walked up to you and told you that the sky was green and babies were made of chocolate and Marilyn Monroe was really a man and sunflower seeds are good for you and that microscopic kittens live in your eyelashes … would you believe that sunflower seeds are good for you?
Skepticism toward these brands is understood.
And, frankly, if any corporation wants to win back my trust (because, yes, I did trust you when I was 5), I welcome them to try.
But, like every other consumer out there, I’m not as dumb as you think I am, and I’m not as unconscious as you wish I would be.
Be honest with me.
Tell me when you mess up. Tell me what you’re doing to fix it.
Be aware that my money – my LIVELIHOOD – goes to you in the form of trust. Don’t abuse that.
And after you’ve admitted, fixed it, told the truth about everything, and honored my contribution to your success, you could give me a free T-shirt.
(The last one is a little small now.)
Coming Tomorrow: Brands I Love
After this outrage-fest, tomorrow’s going to be all about loving the companies I think have displayed an authentic commitment to transparency and conscious production.
So don’t miss it.
What do you think about brand loyalty to companies that have been less than honest in the past?
Does your stomach churn at all when you pick up a questionable brand-name item and put it in your cart, simply because it’s cheaper?
And did you know that any of the above natural brands were owned by big corporations?
*Bonus: Can ANYONE tell me what the brand of the soft drink was in that vending machine oasis commercial from the ’80s? Was it Dr Pepper? I am drawing SUCH a blank.
I have to admit I buy at the grocery store whatever I can get cheap. (I am a devout user of coupons, but not like some…) Often times large companies like Kraft, ConAgra, and General Mills offer deals where I can get groceries for next to nothing, and I mean nothing. That said, I don’t buy anything that is not the basics (fresh fruit, veggies, rice, baking goods, and meat) unless I have a coupon. So I would never pay full price for cereal, a mix, mac n cheese or anything, organic or not. My mantra is to eat pretty basic and as cheaply as possible. This doesn’t mean unhealthy or even nonorganic because surprisingly there are a lot of coupons out there for organic products. A lot of times, though, coupons for organic products are probably out there because those organic products are owned by a larger company that can afford to offer coupons. This is one area where I can appreciate larger companies owning organic products.
Another way I can avoid the secrets and non-transparency of companies and save money at the save time is just don’t buy stuff. I try to do things as simply as possible and not waste anything. Even if a gorgeous eye shadow is on sale and natural, do I need it if I have five other colors at home? Of course not. I am about ready to plow up my entire yard so that I can plant as many fruits and veggies as I can during the summer so that I have tons to eat out of the freezer and canning jars over the winter. This way I have tons of food and don’t have to worry about who I am buying my food from at the grocery store.
I guess I am what I live by…cheap and easy…maybe that didn’t come out right…
Erin aka Conscious Shopper
I’ve thought a lot about this issue and don’t think it’s as clearcut as big company=bad or small company merge with big company = bad. Merging with those bigger companies gives the smaller company the ability to reach a larger sales base, and if the goal is to get good, green, healthy products into the hands of more people, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In some cases, such as when Silk soymilk was bought by Dean foods, the end result is a watered down, inferior product (Silk stopped using all organic soybeans but didn’t change their packaging, so the consumer wouldn’t have noticed. Then they started selling a new organic version of their product at a greater price.) In other cases though, as with Burts Bees and Syoneyfield, the small company retains a great amount of autonomy, so the product and vision remains the same as it’s always been. I think it takes some knowledge and research, but I don’t necessarily think you should dismiss a product just because of their parent company.
I absolutely agree with you on all of that. It’s definitely a very deep thought I took into consideration when I was writing this post.
And, while I agree that “good’ brands that have been bought out by questionable companies shouldn’t be absolutely dismissed, I also think that transparency plays a HUGE role in brand trust (which translates to my brand loyalty).
On one hand, it’s great that consumer demand has caused big corporations to take a second look at what they’re offering.
On the other hand, these big corporations (while they do offer more advertising bang) have zero history in being authentic or socially conscious. They’re only doing it now because they see money in it.
For me – my role here – I’d rather expose brands that are really trying – with their heart and soul – to do something good.
To do something on their own. And to do it with genuine feeling.
The thing is: Burt’s Bees (or Kashi or Bear Naked), they don’t need the support of the little people like me. They have millions and billions of dollars backing them. That’s great. Great for them!
But I don’t want to see small companies get steamrolled in the incessant outpouring of all of that money, y’know?
ESPECIALLY when things are hidden, covered up, or greenwashed because of it.
With so many choices out there, I’m going to stick to the ones that ring “conscious” to me.
Secret Pepper Person
Yes, I knew these companies were owned by big corporations. And yes you are correct in this: “I donâ€™t wish this obsessive label-checking, eyebrow-raising, 3-hour-a-day-researching life on anyone. Itâ€™s exhausting.” Excellent post and I can’t wait for tomorrow!
I knew about some of them … hadn’t realised Burt’s Bees had sold out. I’ve been buying that stuff for YEARS. I should have known when it stopped being sold in specialty only shops and moved to the bigger stores. I’m hoping my favourite orange cleaner (Orange Apeel) hasn’t sold out to some big corporation. Off to check it out …
Yes I knew about this, not all of it but most. Gah.
Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post and I too was a Dr.Pepper addict in high school.
I felt let down by Burt’s Bees when they sold to Clorox. Clorox also bugs me because they sell a grocery store cleaner that’s all green washed and no doubt sucking in a whole lot of people.
And, while on the topic of lost corporate trust, I still haven’t recovered from Sigg’s water bottles that they let everyone think and report were BPA-free. Even thinking about it now enrages me. No amount of homework saved us from that one.
I don’t like supporting “big bad” companies, even indirectly. However, Burt’s Bees does make the best lip balm, Kashi makes good, non-extruded cereal, etc. So if I need to choose between supporting Clorox and having dreadfully dry lips… well. I’d rather not support Clorox, but I know that the actual product that I’m buying is a good one.
This is a great motivation to make your own stuff, though. 🙂 (Coconut oil is way better that Tom’s of Maine when it comes to deodorant!)
Just make your own lip balm!! Betty has some great recipes 🙂
The Burt’s Bees thing makes me sick! I was a big fan of their products. When I heard they’d sold out, I was really disappointed. I’m anxious to see your list tomorrow. It would be nice to feel good about who I’m buying from. Once I’m won over, I’m a very loyal customer.
*bangs head on keyboard* curses clorox’s bees! one of my go to brands has been tarnished. i patiently await tomorrow’s post.
Thanks for helping to keep me an informed and conscious consumer!
I love your blog, and somewhere deep inside must have known you were a Dr. Pepper fan! It’s one of my vices too….
I didn’t know about those natural companies being owned by the big boys. Sometimes seems like it’s around every corner, you’re surrounded!
The good news is you can keep learning about all this and reading and educating ourselves. We really are who drives the market ultimately, even if it takes a few decades.
That list makes me sad. They really should be more transparent. I’m most disappointed by Muir Glen, personally. Sigh. Waiting anxiously for the list tomorrow.
I remember when I heard about Burt’s Bees and I was so disappointed. I can’t seem to bring myself to buy anything from them anymore. I spend way too much of my time feeling guilty for some of the stuff that I buy at the store. I want to buy things that I feel good about, but I also want to have a life. I don’t want to spend all of my time thinking about every purchase and going to a million different stores. Sometimes, you just have to tell yourself that you are doing the best you can and move on. I do try hard to spend my money on things I believe are good for me and the environment. I try to remind myself and teach my kids that you are voting with your dollars.
Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points
Interestingly, I was thinking this about Toyota yesterday.
I’m a Toyota loyalist. It has to do with being able to by an older used car that I can afford and it running – without crazy need for repairs – for a really long time.
That’s important to me. So of the five cars I’ve owned (not including the UK ones) four of them have been Toyotas (when we did the minivan thing, I couldn’t afford one…alas.)
But after the disaster that happened with the accelerating vehicles, I don’t know.
And not because of the accelerating vehicles! Everything I’ve read makes me very uncertain where the problem really was or if it happened the way the media portrayed. (Facts in the media – how silly of me to want them.)
It was that in the face of a situation that was freaking everyone the hell out, that Toyota closed up its shutters and told everyone to go away.
You earn my trust – especially with a CAR that I’m going to drive at 65 miles an hour – by being transparent and responsive.
Secrets frighten me. And I’m not going to trust my – and my children’s – life if you think you don’t have an obligation to communicate with me.
‘Cause if you want my money, you do have that obligation.
I did not know any of those. I don’t think I have any real brand loyalties, because like Kristin I shop by ingredient list, and because I have burned SO MANY TIMES with brands I thought were “good” until I discovered some horrible little secret. To be honest, this distrust has come to apply to almost everything: I don’t trust the medical industry (though there are individuals in the field I trust), I don’t trust the government at the fed or state level (my state anyway) because they’ve sold us all out too many times, I don’t trust the major media outlets (not since I was nine and watched the coverage of the LA riots and was sitting there going “dude there is more to this than some guy getting beat up by the cops, the talking heads are lieing to me), I don’t trust the school system my daughter is about to age into (I know I will be supplementing her education in every way I can and if I ever figure out how I can do it I will homeschool her), I don’t trust the big banks, etc,etc,etc. I think the actions you bring up for corporations to win back your trust applies to all these (and the many others!) and what it boils down to is showing consumers, patients, students, constituents, what have you, some friggin respect (now I have Rodney Dangerfield stuck in my head, great). I don’t think there’s anyway to successfully unplug from all this (for me anyway) so I curtail the impact as much as I can and keep my skeptical glasses on and accept that somewhere in every single day I am being lied to and that is just the nature of the beast (and on really bad days I write my rep.s and/or various companies scathing letters). I think any change that comes is just going to grow slowly and naturally out of all the people out there who have discovered that they can’t trust. 100th monkey kind of thing.
Thanks for the opportunity to rant. I am now definitely awake. 🙂
I’m SHOCKED to hear Clorox owns Burt’s Bees. I’ve used their products since my 1st child (16) who also LOVES Burt’s Bees products as well.
I MAY continue to use their products as long as the ingredients remain true to form, however, I’ve been moving more toward making my own products & buying organic/unrefined ingrients such as shea butter & coconut oil. I feel more in control this way.
The other companies on this list…jaw-dropping
Off topic, I recently discovered my favorite teething product , Hyland’s teething tablets have been recalled (Oct. ’10). Does anyone know anything about this? Also used this product for years.
Dude! I’m outraged about Burt’s Bees! OUTRAGED. Because ever since the Body Shop was taken over by some company, I had been hunting for reliable, natural beauty products and thought I had found it with Burt’s Bees. Although the majority of the ingredients are natural, now I don’t know if I can trust they aren’t testing animals when formulating my cleanser.
That said I use Redken hair products because I have thick, unruly waves that can frizz but are tamed by it. I need to check out if they are test on animals.
It just gets frustrating because I want products that work without hidden dangers of damaging chemicals and animal testing. Like dude, I’m so vain if one skin care and make up company could get their shit together than I’d keep them in business.
Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
It’s not the t-shirt that has kept you loyal to Dr. Pepper for 30 years. It was team Dr. Pepper stepping up and helping your Olivia Newton-John self defy your mother. 13 year olds aren’t choosing when it comes to rebellion partners.
I am deeply saddened that Burt’s Bees, has sold out. But it’s the best lip balm going, I am holding strong. I’m sure I have some brand loyalties that don’t even register- but I shop by ingredient list. If it’s clean I will buy it regardless of the brand.
I didn’t know those natural comapnies were owned by the big brands but it’s not surprising. A lot of those big brands try to buy the other brands that are doing good but they I guess think they can sell it more with advertising. I am pretty sure that is how there is so much advertisements for these brands we probably wouldn’t know about unless we looked around in the stores.