Since I became a mom, I’ve become more keenly aware of the inadequacies of product labels. Once you find yourself a direct consumer of something, you pay more attention!

In a previous blog, I wrote about how children were branded – not unlike cattle sometimes – by the products their parents chose to buy them (myself included): high-end diapers carrying Disney characters, socks with the clothing store’s name in rubber along the foot, a zillion kinds of toys sporting the mugs of the latest movie hero/ines…it’s endless!

The other bugaboo I’ve met with is the contradictions in the labels that tell you whether something is safe for your child’s age group. Here’s an example:

I made it nice and big so you could see the ‘No 0-3′ symbol, nice and small but right next to the much larger ’18 months’ seal.

What do you make of this? I’m thinking that it’s intended for kids 18-months-old and older…but when I see the pictorial symbol to the left, I really think now that it’s only for kids over 3. So really, if I cannot read or choose to ignore the English words and just follow the pictures, I’ll very likely be safer with the toy.

Why be so contradictory with something so important? At first I thought it was because the rest of the toy ‘s box bore no actual brand name. So the product itself  was already suspect. But this is not the first time I’ve seen both of these labels on the same toy, even brand-name ones.

Reminds me of the other example: in cheap, plastic food and drink containers for babies and toddlers, which come five-to-a-pack and sell for way cheap. The idea is that you don’t plan to keep them for long, since they’re so cheap, so you can use them on-the-go and not worried about their getting lost. In large letters on every container’s lid are the words:

Take & Toss

Then, the subtitle in much tinier type:

reuse and recycle

Okay, so which is it? Do you want me to trash ’em after one use? Or, in keeping with the reuse and recycle spirit, should I toss ’em after five or ten uses? Exactly how long should I be reusing and recycling these? (And, in fact, are these containers and lids even recyclable?)

You can see why I – and other consumers who think less cynically than I about these things – might be a bit confused.

In his books Doublespeak and The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone’s Saying Anymore, Professor William Lutz uncovers both the blatant and the subtle in deceptive product labelling. Since those books came out, we’ve all seen countless examples that could be added to his inventory. I’ll likely have more such examples in future posts.

My bottom line: if there’s something that doesn’t sit right with you after you’ve read the labelling on a package, you should question the credibility of the product and its maker.

‘Care to share any examples you’ve come across?

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