First appeared in Boston Herald
By Aron Solomon
“Calories plus energy equals survival,” roars the refrain of a far-too-frequent FOX News satellite radio commercial.
If you’re like me and a big listener of satellite radio, you can’t help but come across ads for emergency food storage. One of the commercials I hear the most is from a company called mypatriotsupply.com
The ads are interesting, as expected, and a little bizarre. They ask if we’ve ever noticed that some people never seem stressed about life? This, of course, leads to the fact that all of these people have emergency food supplies that can feed them for decades. Little did we know that the secret of happiness is knowing that you have dehydrated white rice for a post-Apocalyptic world.
But maybe it is.
To be clear, the goal of this type of food is survival calories. These companies do their best to make their offerings palatable but this is what you get:
As expected, many companies that specialize in emergency food supplies have reported a boom in sales since the pandemic began.
For example, Mountain House, a manufacturer of freeze-dried meals, reported a 400% increase in sales in March 2020 compared to the previous year. Wise Company, another provider of emergency food supplies, reported a 500% increase in sales in the same period.
What’s really interesting about the emergency food industry is how their products are advertised. The ads for many of these suppliers hit us first with fear. Sometimes, that emotional hit can cross the line.
As Attorney John Lawlor explains:
“It’s fine to say things such as your favorite foods are getting hard to find in the grocery store. It’s probably not okay to say that an impending world war is going to cause a global food shortage that is going to make it impossible for any of us to eat.”
Many emergency food storage companies have scare tactics in their ads that are right on the edge of what’s legal and what’s not legal.
The Federal Trade Commission has established guidelines for advertising practices that require advertisements to be truthful and non-deceptive. This means that advertisements cannot make false claims, including claims that are likely to mislead consumers. Fear advertising that uses exaggerated or misleading claims could be considered deceptive and in violation of FTC rules.
The tone that emergency food storage companies take with their marketing can vary depending on the target audience and the specific products being marketed – it doesn’t always need to be about fear.
Here are some common themes and approaches that are often used in emergency food storage marketing aside from fear advertising:
Urgency: Many emergency food storage companies use urgent messaging (think of this as “fear light”) to motivate potential customers to take action. They may emphasize the need to prepare for unexpected disasters or events that could disrupt the food supply chain. This urgency can be conveyed through messaging such as “Don’t wait until it’s too late” or “Be prepared for anything.”
Trust and Reliability: Since emergency food storage is a critical aspect of survival during a crisis, many companies emphasize their trustworthiness and reliability. They may highlight their reputation for quality products, their customer service, or their adherence to industry standards and regulations.
Convenience: Another common marketing approach is to emphasize the convenience of emergency food storage products. This could include highlighting the ease of preparation or the fact that the products have a long shelf life, reducing the need for frequent restocking.
Value: Given that emergency food storage products can be more expensive than regular groceries, many companies emphasize the value of their products. This could include highlighting the nutritional value, the variety of food options available, or the cost savings of purchasing in bulk.
Positive Messaging: Some companies choose to take a more positive and uplifting approach in their marketing. They may emphasize the sense of security and peace of mind that comes from being prepared for emergencies, or highlight the ability to share emergency food storage products with family and friends during times of need. These positive messages seem to be decreasing as fear messaging increases.
Overall, the tone of emergency food storage marketing tends to be serious and focused on the importance of being prepared for unexpected emergencies but also very close to the line the FTC has drawn.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.