Marketing oxymorons: lazy or clever marketing?

Friendly fire, accidentally on purpose, the same difference – we’ve all come across these common oxymorons (and are probably even guilty of using them), but have you noticed how oxymorons are starting to drift into product terminology?

KFC’s vegan chicken burger, alcohol-free wine, Subway’s meatless meatball marinara sub. If you think about any of these for too long it raises loads of unanswerable questions  – why does a meatball sandwich mention meatballs if in fact it’s meatless?!

But is this a case of lazy marketing or marketers simply being clever by cashing in on the success of existing products. We take a look.

When is a sausage really a sausage?

Burgers, sausages, steak, schnitzel – all words traditionally associated with meat,  but over the last few years they have started to acquire vegetarian and vegan counterparts. In fact, just last week Marks and Spencer launched their first ever vegan meal deal which includes ‘No Chicken Kiev’ and ‘No Beef Steak Pies’.

But the question is should they be using the word steak if it’s not a meat product and why mention chicken at all if it doesn’t contain any?

It’s a question that’s gone all the way up to the European Parliament who decided last year meatless and plant-based products could still be named with words traditionally associated with meat. They felt banning these words would discourage people from shifting to more plant-based diets and relabelling existing products would just confuse consumers.

Farmers meanwhile feel it’s more a case of marketing gone mad and that these ‘surrealistic names’ are completely disconnected from the real nature of products.

And just to confuse matters even more terms such as ‘soya milk’ and ‘vegan cheese’ were banned by the European Union three years ago after it ruled terms such as milk, butter and cheese could not be used for non-dairy products. So why are meat terms allowed then for non-meat products?

To be honest, we’re not sure where we stand. While it’s true most vegetarian and vegan products are clearly labelled so consumers are unlikely to be misled into thinking a product contains meat, it does still feel a bit incongruous eating a vegetarian sausage. But we completely understand why brands want to use familiar language to sell their products especially if they are targeting people who are just becoming vegetarian or vegan. After all, which would you rather order: a ‘Savoury Pea Protein and Diced Veg Pie’  or a ‘No Beef Steak Pie’?

But on the other hand could this just be a case of lazy marketing especially since some vegetarians don’t actually want their food to resemble anything to do with meat? At a BBQ recently, a man who had recently become vegetarian was thrilled to discover the vegetarian burgers looked and tasted just like meat. But his wife was horrified. As a vegetarian from childhood she couldn’t think of anything more repulsive than to be eating something that resembled beef.

Does this mean there are potentially two different target audiences needing different types of product? Obviously, that’s down to companies to decide, but since the interest in vegetarian and vegan products shows no sign of slowing down could the time be ripe to come up with more imaginative names? But then again, given Greggs’ amazing success with their vegan sausage roll, why bother?

Make mine a non-alcoholic beer

As consumers become more health conscious and look for ways to reduce their alcohol intake, the non-alcoholic drinks sector has started to grow with more and more non-alcoholic beverages hitting the marketplace.

But if a beer is non-alcoholic should it still be called a beer? Not if you look at its definition which is “an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops”. And the definition for gin is even clearer about its alcoholic nature – “an alcoholic beverage of no less than 40% ABV (80 proof)”.

So does that mean non-alcoholic drinks shouldn’t actually be called beer, gin, vodka etc?

Probably not, but then again, just because they are labelled as ‘non-alcoholic’ or ‘alcohol-free’, doesn’t always meaning they contain zero alcohol.  Products in the UK actually contain up to 0.05% whilst in Finland it’s up to a maximum of 2.8% – a level which is classified as alcoholic in most other countries.

So, now we have a category of drinks riding on the coattails of established drinks, but promoting themselves as non-alcoholic, although that’s not true in all cases.  Talk about confusing!

But the interesting thing is these drinks are a viable and grown up alternative to orange juice or other sugary soft drinks, which raises the question: does this offer an ideal opportunity to come up with new names for these types of drink?

Yes, just like with vegan sausage rolls calling non-alcohol spirits the same names as their alcoholic counterparts is easy (lazy?), but we already have mocktails for non-alcoholic cocktails, so why can’t we have a separate name for different types of non-alcoholic spirits and beers?

Admittedly, there are legal considerations on how these drinks are marketed and labelled, and asking for a ‘meer’ or a ‘modka’ probably won’t cut it, but with the sector growing steadily the timing could be right to review the marketing language used.

Or maybe it’s just a case of coming up with brand names which resonate with consumers.

People ordering in a pub will quite happily ask for a Jack Daniels rather than a whiskey or a Barcardi rather than a white rum. And we quite like the name ‘Nosecco’ the alcohol-free version of Prosecco although they lost their right to trademark the name in the UK when the Prosecco Consortio objected, which raises a whole raft of other issues.

We’re not sure what the answer is, but it’s going to be fascinating to see whether these markets start to introduce their own terminology as they grow and mature or whether they continue to capitalise on what’s go