Is Silk Soy? | Bruce Turkel

Back in 1984, there was a famous marketing case study covered in all the trade rags. The title was “Can Marketing Take the Tofu Out Of Tofutti?” and the question was pretty clear — could good advertising convince soy-averse Americans to try dessert products made with tofu? Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver was the agency hired to promote the soy confection and my friend, agency chairman Harold Levine, called Tofutti “the hottest new product in America.”
Clearly, the answer was “no” because just a year later the account was moved to Campbell Ewald, which introduced the campaign line, “Are you in the mood for love?”

The answer, again made by consumer inaction, was a resounding, “No, we’re not.”

This morning, 27 years later, I was sitting at the breakfast table and pouring Silk brand soymilk into my cereal. Being a lifelong obsessive cereal box reader, I was rereading all the sides of the soymilk carton when it occurred to me that marketing is still trying to hide soy-based ingredients, this time by trying to take the soy out of soymilk.

Take a look at the scans of the carton I was reading. The front label doesn’t say “soymilk” until the very bottom, and in very small type too. It also says “soy protein” a few times but never in large, prominent type.

On the next panel, the say “dairy milk” and “milk” four times and only say “soy protein” twice. And “dairy milk” is easily three times the size of anything else. When they do refer to their product they either call it “Silk Organic Unsweetened” or simply “Silk.”

On the back panel they are a little more obvious, talking about “beans,” “soymilk,” and “soy protein” and even “the natural goodness of soy.” But it’s always restrained. And finally, on the ingredients panel they mention “soy” four times, but never in large type.

I find this all particularly odd when you consider that their recent tagline was “Soy is Silk” (which they don’t use anywhere on the package). And take a look at these older Silk cartons I downloaded from the ‘net. Obviously, there was a time when the company was proud of the fact that their products were made from soy.

But not anymore.

There’s been too much reporting about soy’s negative effects on the health of women and others who shouldn’t consume too much estrogen. And with new competitors such as almond milk and rice milk making significant inroads into the alternative dairy category, Silk finds itself on the defensive. In fact, the reason I was pouring soymilk into my cereal was because we bought it by mistake, thinking it was actually almond milk.

The funny thing is soymilk (and almond milk and rice milk) isn’t really milk at all. As comedian Lewis Black points out, “There’s no such thing as soy milk. It’s soy juice. But they couldn’t sell soy juice, so they called it soymilk. Because anytime you say soy juice, you actually start to gag.”

Today’s whitewashed carton is the dairy case’s version of a two-faced politician who denies what he said yesterday in order to curry favor today. But thanks to today’s 24/7 news cycle, and John Stewart’s genius archivists on The Daily Show, we actually get to see these changes of direction, watching one video recorded flip-flop after another. If it weren’t for these record keepers, today’s marketers — selling everything from food to politicians — would be free to behave like George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in his prescient novel 1984, conducting historical revisionism whenever yesterday’s facts don’t suit today’s realities.

But to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Especially when it comes to whom we vote for and what we put in our mouths. After all, actions should speak louder than words; you are what you eat; and Silk is soy.

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