The Leanwashing Lowdown


Sierra Mist

Posted on June 5, 2012

The Leanwashing Lowdown is where nutrition and marketing experts offer their analysis of ads that have been posted on the Leanwashing Index. Here, former food marketing executive Bruce Bradley analyzes a soda Sierra Mist calls natural because it’s sweetened with sugar derived from sugar beets – but PepsiCo tells him those beets are probably genetically modified.

Criteria 1: Does the ad mislead with words? The premise of this Sierra Mist Natural ad is that it’s a better, more natural choice. But when you really dig into the ingredients, is Sierra Mist as good as it would like us to think? No, it’s not. The sad truth is that “natural” means very little in the world of food and beverages. So when I asked Sierra Mist’s owner, PepsiCo, if genetically modified (GM) ingredients are used, they replied that Sierra Mist is most likely made with sugars derived from GM sugar beets. Somehow I’m guessing most consumers aren’t expecting genetically modified ingredients when they drink their Sierra Mist Natural, so I’m going to rate this ad a 5 (bogus) for this criteria.

Criteria 2: Does the ad mislead with visuals, imagery, or sponsorships? I believe this ad uses some misleading visuals and imagery. The closing shot shows a refreshing glass and bottle of Sierra Mist with a fresh lemon and lime sitting right by their side. While Sierra Mist may use “natural flavors,” it’s unlikely they are freshly squeezed from fruit. What would be a much more accurate visual representation for this product would be 62 grams of sugar piled next to it. That’s almost 16 sugar cubes! Sorry Sierra Mist, I’m giving you a 5.

Criteria 3: Does the ad make a health claim that is vague or can’t be proven? As the ad closes, the voiceover says, “So get real. Try deliciously refreshing Sierra Mist Natural” and the end displays the words “the natural choice.” Now, I’m not sure what these claims mean to PepsiCo, but I think they are inconsistent with a sugary soda filled with GM ingredients. What do you think? Bad news, Sierra Mist, you’ve earned yourself another 5 in my book.

Criteria 4: Does the ad exaggerate how healthy the product actually is? This ad makes drinking sugary soda filled with GM ingredients sound like a healthy, smart choice. I’m sorry PepsiCo, but in my book, water is the real, natural choice, not Sierra Mist Natural. Rating … 5!

Criteria 5: Does the ad leave out or mask important information, making the health claim sound better than it is? PepsiCo leaves out a lot of information in this ad. As I’ve pointed out, it fails to mention that GM ingredients are used. It also doesn’t disclose that there are 62 grams of sugar in the bottle of Sierra Mist Natural. But there is yet another big fact that PepsiCo fails to mention in this ad. This “all natural” claim is only true for Sierra Mist Natural in bottles. The regular, non-diet Sierra Mist sold at restaurants still contains high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. Although the colors and brand logos are the same, the fountain version discretely drops off the “natural.” So, using one of the oldest tricks in the processed food and beverage world’s playbook, PepsiCo makes claims that most consumers think apply to the entire Sierra Mist line, but only apply to a couple of special editions. Once again, this is just outright misleading. Sierra Mist Natural earns another 5 in my opinion.

Final Rating: Well, Sierra Mist had a “perfect” score … a perfectly lousy score. Yes, after receiving a 5 for each Leanwashing Index criteria, Sierra Mist Natural is perfectly bogus in my book. Thanks, PepsiCo. Just what we need … another misleading soda ad that tricks us into consuming more.

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