Rhetoric at Work

April 6, 2007

In a New York Times article published today, one can immediately see the importance of rhetoric and the power of discourse at work. The maker of Equal is suing the maker of Splenda over a claim in their advertising that Splenda is “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.”

Although most people may not be aware of the effects of rhetoric on their daily lives, when it influences the bottom line, companies become acutely aware of its power:

In less than a decade, Splenda has come to dominate the American artificial sweetener market. Last year, it had sales of $212 million, dwarfing Equal’s sales of $49 million. Splenda is now not just in packets and bulk, but in Cocoa Puffs, Diet Coke, Pedialyte, and nearly 4,500 other consumer products.

In its court filings, Merisant cites presentations made by Alchemy, Splenda’s advertising agency, that cited “the decision to position Splenda as not artificial.”In those presentations, the agency says that Splenda should be thought of as “sugar without the calories,” putting “significant distance from “artificial sweeteners.”

For a time in 2002, McNeil added the line “but it’s not sugar.” Sales fizzled.McNeil dropped the line and went back to “made like sugar, tastes like sugar” and “think sugar, say Splenda.” Sales shot back up.One apparent reason was that for consumers polled by McNeil, the tagline “made from sugar” caused some to be unclear as to whether Splenda is truly natural, according to a sealed declaration filed by a lawyer for Merisant who saw the documents. The comments were quoted by the judge in his March opinion.

Professor Keller of Dartmouth said that “it’s all going to come down to consumer perceptions, and how they interpret what these claims are, and are they accurate.”

More on this later, but an interesting story, no?

See You in Court, Sweetie – New York Times