Truth in Product Labels—This One Will Kill You
Proper labeling of promotional products is a big deal. While sourcing, the proper risk assessment of any product must include planned usage group as well as delivery destination. An example of this is that major consumer brands often create two SKUs of the exact same product: one shipping to California with a label designed to meet Prop 65 "clear and reasonable warning" requirements, the other for everywhere else. Makes absolute sense, right?
But, consider this: what if you not only properly labeled your product, but even went completely to the other extreme, and named it for the potential result of using it? If that doesn't give new meaning to "truth in advertising," I'm not sure what does. Introducing Death Cigarettes, perhaps the only consumer product ever, which, if used exactly as intended by the target user group, could cause death. And, more importantly given the subject matter at hand, is labeled to indicate that.
Entrepreneur BJ Cunningham founded the interestingly-named Enlightened Tobacco Company in 1991 and, until 1999, the cigarettes were sold only through mail order so as to avoid taxes. DEATHTM Cigarettes were labeled as hazardous to your health by prominently displaying a skull and crossbones on its package, and made claims to have been the best-selling cigarettes in the UK for three years. For convenience, the product was offered in two varieties; DEATHTM, and, if you wanted to go just a little slower, DEATH LightTM. Cunningham's goal was to reimagine the tobacco industry and bring products straight to the consumer without the nasty burden of taxes. Unfortunately for him, both the courts and the tobacco industry disagreed. In addition, the company suffered a major setback when a 1994 F1 sponsorship resulted in a driver death and was eventually closed down by a copyright infringement suit filed by alcohol company Black Death. Today, BJ Cunningham makes his money on the speaker circuit, presenting business ideas based on the unique experience of this method of marketing.
So, the two examples are polar opposites, really. One is the case of consumer products marketed with labels which many consider to be an inconvenience, and one is the case of a product labeled and marketed precisely with the truthful possible end result in mind. How about you? Do you consider warning labels the best answer for consumer safety, or do you consider them more along the lines of a scare the equivalent of a skull and crossbones?
You may have seen the recall of another rare earth magnet product, Magnicubes, announced this week by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That is the second product of its type to be recalled, and a product category where labeling is at the core of the issue. I mention that because it prompted an interesting release sent to us by Zen Magnets' CEO, Shihan Qu. Zen Magnets, apparently, is steadfast in its opposition to a complete ban of magnets and, for now, according to Qu, "will continue to fight for the public's ability to purchase tabletop magnets and limit regulation of small businesses." According to the release, Zen has one of two choices; "Shut-down and Stop Sales" or "All-in for the Conscience." It will be interesting to see how this one works out.
Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.