A Look at a Few Myths From the World of Marketing

James Logie

Photo by Tom Radetzki on Unsplash

We all love a good conspiracy theory. And when it comes to the world of marketing and advertising, a few solid ones have made the rounds.

Some of these you may know, and some may be brand new for you. But each of them made a big enough impact to make people wonder if they are really true or not.

A bunch of these come from the world of food and beverages, and some even have a little bit of truth behind them. Let’s take a look at eight classic theories.

1. Coke and Pepsi Are Owned by the Same Company

Have you noticed during Coke commercials seeing real Pepsi cans in them? And it's been the same thing with Pepsi commercials: they actually showed Coke.

You may wonder, “why would they show the other product?” That didn’t seem like a smart way to market. Wouldn’t Coke sue Pepsi for using their image without their consent?

This was also free advertising for Coca-Cola and vice versa. Why would each company give extra exposure to the other?

Whenever you watch a commercial that shows the alternative to their product, it’s always a generic-looking version. When you watch a Duracell battery commercial, they aren’t showing Panasonic batteries in the same ad.

But with Coke and Pepsi, they both showed each other. People had always wondered what exactly was going on.

The idea emerged that Coke and Pepsi were both owned by the same company, so each product could be shown in the commercials.

This is, of course, not true, as Coke is made by the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsi is made by Pepsico. But it’s one of those marketing urban legends that never seems to go away.

2. Nike Would Send You a New Pair of Shoes to Recycle Your Old Ones

So this one is kind of true, but the way it first spread was through an email chain.

The idea was that you would send your old shoes for Nike to turn into sports courts and playground surfaces. In return, they would send you a brand new pair of shoes.

First off, Nike does in fact re-use old shoes to turn them into sports courts. It’s called their Reuse-a-Shoe Program and they’ve been creating basketball, tennis, and playground surfaces in under-served neighborhoods.

But before this, the urban legend side of this story is about getting a brand new pair of shoes after sending in your old ones.

The emails even said it didn’t even have to be Nike shoes, they just had to be tennis shoes — and they would still send you a brand new pair. Depending on where you lived, this caught on big time.

The “campaign” spread so much that people thought it was an actual Nike marketing promotion. But the company had to put a stop to this.

They stated that even though they have their recycling program; they do not solicit it over the internet or email.

You can learn more about Nike’s sustainability program here.

3. Dr. Pepper is Made With Prune Juice

The Texas drink — which is actually the oldest soft drink in America — started way back in 1885.

Like Coca-Cola, the formula for Dr. Pepper has always been a closely guarded secret. The rumor is that half of the recipe is held in a bank vault in Dallas, with the other half kept in a separate vault.

Dr. Pepper has one of the most unique flavors of any soft drink, and this got people wondering if it contained odd ingredients such as prune juice or prune extracts.

Snopes says this theory goes back to the 1930s.

One idea is that a competitor’s deliveryman started the rumor so stores wouldn’t stock Dr. Pepper next to their drink, and the rumor spread from there. People now wanted to avoid the “laxative soft drink.”

But this isn’t the case, and the closest thing to prune juice in Dr. Pepper is the blend of fruit extracts it contains.

4. Twinkies Can Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse

You may have known this "fact" since you were a kid.

The myth comes from the fact Twinkies are made with all-chemical ingredients (this isn’t true) and this gives them an infinite shelf-life.

The legend grew to where people claimed the only thing that could survive a nuclear war were cockroaches and Twinkies.

This whole thing may have been created by a science teacher in Maine who claimed to have found a 30-year-old Twinkie on top of a chalkboard and claimed it appeared fresh and edible.

The Truth: Twinkies do in fact contain real food and are genuine baked goods. They have some artificial ingredients but also contain things like:

  • wheat
  • eggs
  • corn starch
  • shortening

These ingredients spoil at a slower rate, but the shelf-life of Twinkies is only 25 days. After this point, they will diminish in taste and texture.

5. The Broken McDonalds Ice Cream Machine Conspiracy Theory

Hands up if you’ve been dying for a McDonald’s ice cream, and head to the drive-through only to find out that the “machine is broken.”

This seemed to be happening quite a bit — and all over the place. What was going on with these machines?

The conspiracy theory emerged that McDonald’s employees just couldn’t be bothered with getting the machine up and running, then cleaning it, just to serve a few cones. To avoid all this, employees would just lie and say the machines were down.

The broken machines soon became the most common complaint at McDonald’s and you may have seen this spread around on social media.

It got so bad that the FTC reportedly reached out to various franchisees to see exactly what was happening.

There were even “McBroken Maps” that would show which locations had functioning machines.

There has been nothing shared or discovered by the company to confirm that this “conspiracy” was actually the case.

If it was, this could cut into the company’s bottom line, and they would have jumped all over it.

McDonald’s tried to get ahead of the bad press by putting out the following tweet:

“We have a joke about our soft serve machine but we’re worried it won’t work...”

In the end, it turns out the machines are pretty complicated to operate, maintain, and fix.

So when you went looking for a cone on a hot summer's day, you can just chalk it up to bad timing.

6. KFC Doesn’t Use Real “Chicken”

Do you remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded itself as KFC? One idea behind this change was that the company was using animals that were so genetically modified they couldn’t be classified as real chickens.

Stories circulated about chickens engineered without eyes, beaks, or the ability to walk. Some claimed they were engineered with up to 8 legs to produce more meat.

There were even hoax images floating around of these mutant chickens.

The theory that emerged was since the company was serving these “Frankenchickens,” they had to legally take the word “chicken” out of their name, and go with just the plain “KFC.”

This was the furthest thing from the truth.

The real reason they changed their name was to follow what some other companies were doing and shorten their name. KFC was easier to say, and people were already calling it KFC, anyway.

Another big reason for the name change was they wanted to take the word “fried” out of their name, and hopefully, distance themselves from being unhealthy.

The name change also made it easier to appear on menus and signage. The whole thing was ultimately intended as a rebrand for the company.

This entire issue was even investigated by Snopes.com to prove no Teenage Mutant Ninja Chickens were being used in your three-piece meal.

7. Coca-Cola Was Made With Cocaine

This one seems to be as old as time itself. It’s also one that continues to this day: Coca-Cola used to contain real cocaine.

So this one actually has a nugget of truth to it — but not in the way you think.

When Coca-Cola was first invented, it was created as a brain tonic. The original formula could almost be considered medicinal.

The beverage contained ingredients like the Kola nut — which gave the drink some flavor and caffeine — and the coca leaf, which gave it its distinctive flavor. Put those together and you’ve got Coca-Kola.

The ‘K’ was dropped for a ‘C’ to give the name some uniformity.

If you know your botany, you know that cocaine comes from the coca plant — specifically the leaves of it. These were the same leaves being used to make Coca-Cola.

Cocaine wasn’t illegal when John Pemberton created the iconic beverage back in 1885. But his creation didn’t directly contain cocaine, only trace amounts that came from the coca leaves.

Back then, Coca-Cola was made into a syrup with carbonated water added later on. One gallon of syrup would require five ounces of coca leaves.

This led to the original beverage containing some cocaine — but in trace amounts.

This happened because the formula used fresh leaves. By 1904, Coca-Cola stopped using fresh leaves and would use “spent leaves” which didn’t contain any cocaine.

This would still provide the flavor but not make you fail a drug test.

Today, Coca-Cola is made with a coca leaf extract. There is one company; Stepan Co. of New Jersey, which is the only company in the US allowed to import and process the coca plant.

The Coca-Cola/Cocaine connection has lasted for more than a century. As late as 1988, Coca-Cola still had to deny to the New York Times their product didn’t include any cocaine.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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