How much of consumer decision making is based on pure hype?

Enter hot dog water: a genius stunt designed to provoke thought about the confidence people put into flashy marketing claims. In June 2018, Canadian artist Douglas Bevans set up a booth at a popular street fair in Vancouver, Canada, to sell a hot dog suspended in a bottle of water for $29.

A stunt to stoke critical thinking

According Global News, Bevans sold Hot Dog Water using an array of claims. The product was sold as gluten-free, keto-friendly drink high in sodium and electrolytes that also boosts weight loss and brain function while making you look younger.

Bevans told the news outlet the sausage infusion was an absurd publicity stunt and commentary on “health-quackery product marketing.” The concept satirizes high-cost, high-concept health foods and challenges viewers to think critically about product marketing and buying decisions.

The artist said the reactions from the public ranged from those amused by the (hopefully) obvious joke or bemused by the ludicrous brew.

“From the responses, I think people will actually go away and reconsider some of these other $80 bottles of water that will come out that are ‘raw’ or ‘smart waters,’ or anything that doesn’t have any substantial scientific backing but just a lot of pretty impressive marketing,” Bevans told Global News.

Going viral

Since the date of the event, the story went viral with wide coverage online, which I hope boosts Bevans' signal to far more than the crowd who saw the stunt in person. His essential message – to examine the fine print and consider the actual science behind flashy health products – is important in this era of disruption.

Consumers are constantly blasted with information both true and dubious, and they are having a hard time sorting it out. Studies show consumers think they know far more than they actually do about the chicken and food industries in general. This enables things that sound good, such as “cage free” or “free range," that may not be scientifically best for the bird to become important to buyers.

In these times, the industry should commit to continuing to educate the public on how chicken is raised and processed. A lack of credible information lets ambitious hype-men and fringe actors fill the vacuum with claims as outrageous as those used to sell hot dog water.

Trade organizations like the National Chicken Council should be commended for their outreach and education efforts, but the industry needs to be involved as well. Maybe not everyone can do it, but Sanderson Farms deserves credit for its punchy advertisements addressing what it calls marketing gimmicks. Its newest ads tackle vegetarian diet production with a chicken who sends back a vegetarian meal at a fancy restaurant. It previously employed two men who said antibiotic-free production was a gimmick and a tactic to sell the same product a higher price.