It seems the industry trade group takes issue with those of us who give a crap about the crap they try to force down our throats. Let's just break down the horrible line of thinking that led to these ads, shall we?
Step One: Identify the Problem
Like any good advocacy group would, the Corn Refiners Association recognized that their single most profitable product—high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—is earning itself a bad name among doctors, parents, and a whole lot of other folks. First came the whispers of "why is it in everything?" including what should be unsweet food items like turkey stuffing, salad dressing and hot dogs. Then came the study that linked high fructose corn syrup to diabetes in children, which is quickly becoming an epidemic (probably because it's in, well, everything).
This is the first thing they did right, from a marketing perspective (I won't get into the first rule of ethical marketing: don't push dangerous products).
Step Two: Join the Conversation
In many cases, companies decide to just stand pat when the rumors start whirling (this approach was particularly favored in the days before the internet gave consumers so much control over brand reputation). But as the rumors about HFCS became the subject of scientific study, the CRA apparently felt it had to step in. They must have figured, "Hey, let's set the record straight!"
What they failed to admit to themselves was that the record was not exactly in their favor.
Step Three: Frame Your Message
Both of the ads the group launched hinge on the concept that facts trump "what they say" any day of the week. Not a bad approach, if you actually have facts to back up your argument. But the ads fail to deliver on this promise, opting instead to bolster several fallacies with facts that are rather inconsequential.
Claim: HFCS is made from corn.So if you're going to frame your message around facts, you better have good ones to support it.
Truth: Yup. (Of course, I don't really want corn in my toothpaste.)
Claim: HFCS has the same calories as sugar.
Truth: Basically, yup.
Claim: HFCS is fine in moderation.
Truth: Possibly true but misleading. Americans' consumption of HFCS has increased 250% over the last 15 years (source), because it's in damn near everything; CRA member companies shipped 23,503,847,000 pounds of HFCS in 2005 alone (source). So when they tell us to consume it in moderation, it's a little bit like waiving a vial of crack in front of a junkie and then telling him to go home. HFCS has also been linked, as mentioned, to diabetes because it messes with the way the body produces natural regulators.
Claim: HFCS doesn't have any artificial ingredients.
Truth: Not exactly true, and definitely misleading. There are synthetic ingredients used in the processing of HFCS (corn starch hydrolysate and glucose isomerase enzyme preparation, to be exact), but the molecular structure of these substances are altered during manufacturing. Furthermore, the FDA itself (notoriously loose when it comes to limiting Big Business claims) does not allow companies to call products containing HFCS "natural" (source).
Step Four: Imply Your Audience is Stupid to be so Easily Swayed By Empty Words, then ask them to believe yours
This is where the copywriting really falls apart. Setting aside the giant conceptual mistake of fact vs. fiction, it is generally a bad idea to portray your audience as being either a dumb sheep or a passive-aggressive, judgmental bitchface. Do the writers even realize that the white mother in the ad above represents the very people they are trying to persuade? She's expressing what the public is thinking—why on earth make her look like such a snot while doing it? Making your audience feel bad about themselves—or worse, self-defensive—is a terrible way to get them to do what you want.
The Lesson: Consider the person receiving your message and be nice to them
Mending a broken relationship with your customer base is no easy task. I can't say I envy the marketing minds behind these ads, given the uphill battle they've been tasked to fight. I'm not even sure I know what approach would work for them at this point. I do know, though, that winning over a naysayer requires a delicate touch. Making your audience look like a douchebag, then asking them to support you? Not so delicate.