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What's in a name? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   
ImageWell, these days, quite a lot. You would have to be more than six feet under to miss the "Cellared in Ontario" debate. While vintners are waving an Ontario flag, up to 70% of the grapes in these wines can be imported. Ontario grape growers are incensed, and consumers feel that they have been misled.

The lobby will likely revise the standard to a minimum of 70% Ontario grown grapes. But the more important lesson is growing consumer label distrust. The consumer wants to make an informed decision, and they are asking more and more hard questions.

The other major labeling headliner is "Product of Canada". Consumers are livid when informed that the apple juice so designated could be reconstituted using Chinese apples. Yes, the rule is based on over 50% of the cost originating in "our home and native land."

But, for the swelling many wanting to support our agricultural industry, this is pure and simple fraud. The 100-mile diet is a burgeoning phenomenon that will not simply go away. Food costs are an issue, but so is "home grown", lower carbon emissions and sustainable food production. This is not a passing fad. Visit a farmer's market if you don't believe in the movement.

Westjet recently advertised special deals for "Premium Economy" passengers.  It reminds me of marks. What is the difference between an A- and a B+? Don't bamboozle me; just tell me what is what. Is that so hard?

Starbucks created a new language for coffee. "Tall", "Venti" and "Grande" replaced our normal ordering lingo. They're now seeing the effects of an "economic downturn" and offering an instant option.  Basics aren't bad, especially now. Tim Horton's continues to thrive, they know how to communicate. The "double-double" remains part of the everyday language. McDonalds isn't stupid, they follow.

Please tell me why is faux better than pretend or fake? A French phrase is more believable?

So what does that mean to you? What is "selected Asian hardwoods"? If it's rubber wood, say so (and the benefits) which are many. Today's consumer wants to know if the product came from a sustainable source, is there a serious formaldehyde component and the country of origin. Your knowledge will engender trust, and could lead to a more expensive Canadian product.

What is the difference between an 82-inch two-over-two sofa and a large loveseat?  The consumer simply wants to know if the item will easy fit in their home and look fabulous. If the industry doesn't establish standard terms, you should determine them for your business. While length is an issue, so is depth and whether the feet are removable. Not only will you be perceived as more consumer friendly, you'll also reduce those costly returns.

What is "bonded leather" and how does that affect people with chemical allergies? Do you know? Can you explain? The term reminds me of euphemisms like "processed cheese food" and "genuine gold tone finish." Spin doctors are becoming as reviled as Ponzi scheme operators. Trust is everything in the big ticket businesses; don't squander yours.

Use a simple test. When writing advertising copy, signage or giving a product knowledge session ask yourself: "What does this mean to my customer?" Would that phrase make sense to someone in Grade 6? I'm not asking you to "dumb it down" but to remember great communicators don't require their audience to bring a jargon dictionary.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay. She recently started her own business Concierge Relocation ( Her company specializes in move management, especially for those dramatically downsizing seniors and their overwhelmed children.

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