My plastic bottle of dish soap claims using their brand "saves wildlife."
On the bottle's label, a mama duck cuddles a baby duck in a manner more designed to trigger the human "oh for cute" response than to reflect any actual scene in a swamp.
To find out just how buying X brand of soap saves wildlife, you must visit the website.
Once there, you find out that the soap does nothing. Neither does the company that makes the soap until the customer "activates" a donation to a wildlife organization by typing in a long number off the bottle into the website. To "protect the integrity" of the site, one must also copy a code filled with a confusing mix of numbers and letters in to a box.
Every one of these steps, of course, eliminates 95% of the buyers from taking part in any effort to save wildlife. In the end, only a tiny, tiny pittance goes to the wildlife organization.
Of that tiny pittance, a good chunk will go to pay the administrative staff of the wildlife organization. In the end, the whole nationwide soap program will likely result in a few dozen ducks getting a bath after an oil spill.
Of course, saving ducks was never the point. The whole point was to sell soap by using guilt and the "oh for cute" impulse as a marketing tool.
Last week, we went on a little vacation to the North Shore. Very nice.
However, you can't walk three feet without running into some marketing ploy intended to play on the guilt of suburbanites for being gluttonous pigs the rest of the year.
The coffee is "free trade." Some of it is even "hand-crafted!" The eggs in the breakfast buffet at the hotel were "cage-free." Somehow, the mention of a cage, even in its absence, didn't improve the breakfast experience.
It really got deep at the foofy seafood restaurant where we were fed local organic micro-greens off handcrafted plates made by local artisans. The chairs were made with local wood. The fish was caught out the front door. The honey in the salad dressing was from local clover collected by unionized bees with full health benefits.
All of this self-righteous baloney on menus and soap bottles is driven by one thing: Marketing. Polls show that if you throw the word "handcrafted" into the mix, sales go up.
Court cases show that anything can be called "handcrafted," as long as a hand of some sort moved a lever on the machine that did the work.
Meanwhile, on the way back to the suburbs, the tired family stops at the supermarket to pick up a bag of Idaho potatoes. We grow potatoes around here, but can you buy Minnesota or North Dakota potatoes other than at a farmer's market? Nope, all you can find on the shelf at the supermarket are Idaho potatoes, apparently shipped 1,500 miles. Or more.
While sitting at the counter of an area cafe, I struck up a conversation with an over-the-road truck driver. I asked what he carried.
"Potatoes," he said.
I pounced. Why in the world do we have to get our potatoes from Idaho when we have perfectly good potatoes grown right around here?
"Well," he said with a wry grin, "your potatoes are probably grown around here, anyway."
Turns out, this truck driver drives semi-loads of potatoes from North Dakota out to Idaho where they are bagged into bags that say "Idaho potatoes" and sent back here, often in the same truck, to be sold. So powerful and profitable is the brand "Idaho potato" that it is worth it for the food people to pass their potatoes through Idaho just to get the label.
When we're on vacation, we savor locally grown, hand-crafted potatoes fertilized with the manure from virgin cows.
On the way back to our normal, wasteful, gas-guzzling lives, we pick up a bag of potatoes that might well have taken a 3,000 mile round trip to Idaho before ending up on our plate.
Either way, it is the marketing department, not the quality department, which makes the decision. Either way, the emotions and knee-jerk impulses of the ever-stupid consumer are played like a fiddle by people who really don't give a rip about anything but the bottom line.
To find the truth, you just have to find a truck driver. They know the shortest routes. And they know where the potatoes have been.