What's the truth about Splenda?

I've been stewing about the news circulating recently about Splenda and it's got me a bit wound up (see Groups Asks Johnson & Johnson to Stop Lying About Splenda). So much so, in fact, that I've read posts on Adland for some time, but never before made one here.

Either Splenda's a case of very savvy marketing—as I'm sure J&J would like to claim—or its false, misleading advertising. I'm inclined to the latter, or what Jon Entine at Ethical Corporation has called "sleight of hand marketing" and "shifty advertising." I’ve been following the press around this for the last week, even got a note from a friend yesterday who, like me, was concerned about what she was hearing.

Why do I care? On a professional level, as a marketing consultant, I think industry self-regulation will only work if marketers adhere to rules--truth-in-advertising being an important one. On a personal level, I've been a Splenda user, in fact switched from pale blue packets to yellow over a year ago, because I believed the phrase "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar" to mean that Splenda has sugar in it and is a healthier alternative to the all-chemical sweeteners. I was such a devotee that, until the last few days, I carried yellow packets in a cute orange wallet in my purse, just in case I went somewhere, had a cup ‘o Joe, and they didn’t stock it. AND I lobbied others to join me (including my mother and her boyfriend who was recently advised by his doctor to lower his sugar intake and decrease calories). "You want sugar without the calories, a sugar-substitute without chemicals?" I asked my mom.
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It seems I got it wrong. It seems Splenda's sucralose is not sugar. It seems Splenda tastes like sugar because it’s infused with a sweet-tasting synthetic compound. Turns out the full rainbow of colored packets have one thing in common: chemicals. Heck, I'm sure I eat a ton of stuff with chemicals, so why do I care? Because Splenda’s marketing--not the least of which J&J’s clever use of the Sugar logo in some ads--suggests it’s a sugar product and that suggestion capitalizes on assumptions that it’s natural. It’s not and I feel duped. I would have been wise, though, to check with Whole Foods. Seems they decided a few years ago to stop selling all products with sucralose in them. Why? Because they’re skeptical of its safety and sucralose is not “real food” (quoted in a NYT piece in December). So what do others think of this? Are we dealing with an infringement of truth-in-advertising or is this marketing at its best? Are there other current examples of products/services out there that use the same approach? Inquiring minds want to know.

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    Jan 22, 2005
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