Label PRomotion | Labels' Highest Use: Promotion or Protection?

Labels identify, explain, promote and provide cautionary advice. That’s a lot to do, especially when the product is small and the need for information is large.

Challenges are increasing. Legal concerns (sometimes nothing more than cover-your-butt statements) are proliferating as the likelihood for being sued skyrockets in our overly litigious country. Regulatory agencies are requiring more disclosures, particularly on food, beverage, medicine, and nutraceutical products. Competition for brand awareness is fierce and getting fiercer all the time. Inducements to buy also factor into the mix on certain labels.

Exacerbating all of this is continuing emphasis on minimizing use of resources and valuable shelf space by making packaging and associated labels smaller.

Given all these pressures, there is the ongoing question: “What are the highest and best uses of valuable and limited label real estate?” In an ideal world, factual information explaining the product and educating consumers about its use would be the top priority. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so promotional content and branding often take precedence over anything else.

On a ubiquitous, relatively benign product such as toilet paper, this isn’t a big deal. (Although, I must opine that perhaps they’re going too far with their promotional messaging about “confident clean” and the like!) It’s much different, however, when potentially problematic consumables are involved.

A July 2015 TIME magazine article frames some of the debate. It is headlined, “You Asked: Can I Trust Allergy Warnings On Food Labels?”

The article points out, “You can, but deciphering some of those label statements can be tricky…When you’re trying to shop for a child with a severe peanut allergy, wishy-washy language is the last thing you want to see on a food label. So when you read warnings that begin ‘May contain traces of…’ or ‘Manufactured on equipment also used for…’ you may be left scratching your head…Believe it or not, all of those ‘may contain’ statements are voluntary under current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations...if ‘may contain’ statements are voluntary, doesn’t that mean a lot of potentially contaminated food products don’t include any warnings at all?”

According to the article, the FDA is working on tightening these rules. In the meantime, how can consumers fully trust potentially problematic products that contain no warnings? Full disclosure should be automatic—required or not.

But, so far, it isn’t required or automatic. Profit motives often blur the lines. How many manufacturers will willingly trumpet that their products may harm a substantial percentage of those taking them?

Thanks to our super-connected-social media-news-spreads-like-wildfire world, the answer is “an ever-larger percentage.” It only takes one child dying or suffering a malady to ignite a firestorm of public outrage, threats of lawsuits, and typically, rapid legislative action.

Think about it. Accounts of children harmed and killed by ingesting liquid nicotine used in e-cigs are leading to national and state-by-state requirements to strengthen packaging and information about this product. Much the same is happening in the world of marijuana edibles, largely due to children ingesting them with resulting health problems.

So, what should be the highest and best use of labels? It’s a no-brainer: protection of the consuming public. Then, and only then, should manufacturers feel free to brand and promote away.

Here’s an idea to ponder: Find ways to integrate the two. Use powerful content and dynamic graphics to make the explanations, education, and warnings stand out even more. Embrace the opportunity to get out front and be a responsible corporate citizen. Manufacturers doing so may discover winning outcomes all around.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is president of Lusky Enterprises Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Since 2008, he has worked with Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printing company, as a content developer specializing in expert advice articles. Lusky presents common-sense ideas grounded in doing what’s real and right for managing and enhancing public image.

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