Oct 26 2015

Marketing Natural

For as long as there has been anything synthetic, apparently, people have been enamored of the idea of “natural.” “Natural” has what is called a health halo, or a sense of wholesomeness, while anything artificial or chemical is presented as automatically harmful.

When you scratch even a little below the surface, this idea makes no scientific sense. Nature is full of horrible toxins, many of which evolved specifically to be toxic. Nature does not seem to care particularly about one rather egocentric species on Earth, and there is no reason to think that it should. The degree to which something is natural vs synthetic says absolutely nothing about its health effects, but being natural is meant to feel good.

With the advent of social media is has become easier than ever for self-styled gurus and “experts” to market themselves, and many have hit upon the marketing allure of “natural” as a hook. The Food Babe and Natural News immediately come to mind. They have taken rank pseudoscience and wrapped it in a thin veneer of “natural” marketing hype.

As is often the case, however, the famous examples of any phenomenon are usually just the tip of a large pyramid, with many more individuals struggling in relative anonymity. Further, I have often thought that if you want to, for example, figure out how a standard magic trick is performed, don’t watch the famous experts. They are too good. Watch the hacks. They are much more likely to give the trick away.

Similarly, reading the second tier of natural gurus blatantly exposes the formula of marketing what is natural. Although honestly, the top tier is also pretty obvious.

In any case, a person who markets themselves as “Natural Nancy” recently came to my attention. She has a pretty light internet footprint, but does have a Facebook page. She says she has a PhD but I cannot find anywhere exactly what that is in. Her Facebook page offers this description:

Board Certified Holistic Nutrition & Natural Healing Practitioner, Motivational Eater,Trained Cook and overall healthy person.

A “motivational eater?” That’s a new one. Looking at the posts on her Facebook page her modus operandi quickly becomes obvious. One post declares: “Medicine doesn’t heal you, Doctors don’t heal you, only you heal you.”

This, like all of her platitudes, are completely unoriginal regurgitations of the standard alternative medicine canon. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, homeopaths, and Reiki practitioners all preach that they are merely supporting the body’s ability to heal itself. They hype this ability, even to the point of claiming that it is unlimited. All you have to do is remove anything that is preventing your body from healing itself, and you will live in perfect health to a ripe old age.

This, of course, is complete nonsense. Our ancestors lived a life free of anything synthetic, of GMOs or processed food. They had an all natural diet, and lived on average about 40 years. Evidence suggests they were tormented by every medical malady imaginable.

While our bodies do posses an inherent immune system and an ability to heal damage or injury, this self-healing is, of course, not unlimited. We fight battles with infecting organisms, that have also evolved to survive, and sometimes we lose. Our body parts wear out. Sometimes they are flawed from the beginning. We can heal injuries, but within limits. Sometimes, like with any complex machine, things just go wrong.

That is where modern medicine comes in. The term “heal,” of course, is wonderfully vague and fuzzy. If a bacterial infection is in the process of killing you, and antibiotics kill off the bacteria allowing your immune system to gain an upper hand and eventually recover, what healed you? Call it what you will, but I would not minimize the role of the antibiotics.

The second plank in her naturalistic faith is that food is good for you. This, of course, is very common in the alternative medicine crowd. It is almost daily that someone is hyping to me the healthful effects of some particular food. For example, NN has another post that states that heart disease is caused by inflammation, and inflammation is caused by a poor diet. Both of these statements are oversimplifications to the point of being false. Heart disease and inflammation have many causes, and eating blueberries (as she implies) is not going to save you from the heart attack that will ultimately kill 25% of us.

The “food as medicine” mantra usually goes something like this: This particular food has a lot of a specific nutrient, which in turn has these beneficial effects in the body. Therefore, if you eat this food in large amounts you will gain a specific health benefit.

In reality, however, all this really means is that it’s good to eat food. Food has nutrients in it that our bodies need. Eat a variety of food, not to much, mostly plants – that is still the best diet advice for most people. Everything else is a detail you usually don’t need to worry about.

NN’s logic is like this, however. Your car needs oil. Oil reduces friction, which is the major cause of wear and tear to the engine. Therefore, put oil in your car rather than taking it to a mechanic when something is wrong.

I save the best example for last – NN was gloriously punked recently, exposing just how superficial her reasoning is. She found this meme, and happily posted it to her facebook page with the tag: “Don’t give this junk to your kids for goodness sake. They deserve better.”

She did not clarify if she was talking about the bleach or the fruit punch. This is straight out of the Food Babe playbook – find a product that has a scary sounding chemical in it, and then declare the chemical “icky” and then shame people into not using it or companies into dropping it from their product.

Of course, in this case dihydrogen monoxide is water (H2O). This is a satire that dates back to the 1990s, started by a 14 year-old student who collected signatures for petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide. Did you know that it is the major component of acid rain, and if you breath it in it can kill you? It is a brilliant satire, showing how stating factoids out of context can make anything sound scary, even pure water.

NN apparently bought this 20 year old trolling hook line and sinker. Thinking up new ways to state how scary DHMO is has become a popular pass time on social media – just read to the comments to NN’s post to see.

What this exposes is that natural-hyping gurus like NN and the Food Babe don’t actually understand science or do sufficient research to find out what is really going on. Their process is so superficial, they can be easily scammed by a 20 year old stunt.


The concept that “natural” is wholesome is perhaps the most culturally ingrained marketing idea out there. It is now just an unchallenged part of the culture. Like all marketing memes, it is meant to keep the customer from thinking. Just feel the way I want you to feel when I push your buttons so that you will buy my product or service.

There is a subculture evident on social media that gets it, however. “Natural” is marketing hype, and nothing more.

34 responses so far