Written to the song: Guantanamera — Celia Cruz

“Greatness comes by doing a few small and smart things each and every day. Comes from taking little steps, consistently. Comes from a making a few small chips against everything in your professional and personal life that is ordinary, so that a day eventually arrives when all that’s left is The Extraordinary.”
— Robin S. Sharma

Panama City, Panama.

I can confidently say that I have never had trouble picking a bag of chips to purchase. While I munch on chips, I am too distracted to look at the language on the chip bag. There was an interesting study by Joshua Freedman and Dan Jurafsky looking at how the language on a chip bag is marketed to appeal to “upper-class” and “lower-class” preferences. Jurafsky and his colleagues looked at 12 bags of chips — 6 “expensive” brands for 68 cents per ounce (ex: Terra chips) and 6 “inexpensive” brands (e: Lays) which were 40 cents an ounce (Freedman & Jurafsky, 2011). They then analyzed the language on the bags of chips. Amongst the twelve bags of chips, the labels included: all natural, MSG-free, low-sodium, no trans-fats and preservative free.

All twelve bags contained no trans-fats, although only the six pricier bags advertised it — appealing to the “health conscious” community. The word “naturalness” was used 2.5 times more in the expensive chip bag. As well, the more expensive bags used longer sentences and more descriptive and complex words in the advertisements.

The language of the bags of chips were analyzed, and the inexpensive bags contained language at the 8th grade level, and had an average of 104 words per bag. The more expensive bags contained language at the 10–11th grade level, and had 142 words per bag.

Inexpensive chips put an emphasis on legacy, family and tradition. On a cheap bag of chips there will often be fun facts relating to North American facts and history.

For example:

Inexpensive bag: “What gives our chips their exceptional great taste? It’s no secret. It’s the way they’re made”.

A more expensive bag of chips uses many superlatives (most, best, finest) in its marketing. The advertisements feature phrases demonstrating uniqueness, such as: “a taste you won’t find anywhere else”. Surprisingly, the ads also feature lots of negatives, such as “no added salt”, “no artificial flavours” and “never deep fried”.

For example:

Expensive bag: “We use totally natural ingredients, hand-rake every batch, and test chips at every preparation to ensure quality and taste”.

Like most food that I quickly grab and stuff into my cart while at the grocery store, I never think much about it. While reading an analysis like this one, it is interesting to realize how much thought is put into the advertising process. Language makes a difference when appealing to different market consumers. Maybe I’ll purchase your brand of chips because I think that it’s “healthier” than the alternative, or maybe I really want to learn some fun facts on the American States. The language we intentionally select influences the people we attract and ultimately the choices that they make. Language is powerful — let’s celebrate over a bag of chips!

The Panama Canal


Freedman, Joshua and Dan Jurafsky. “Authenticity in America: Class Distinction in Potato Chip Advertising.” Stanford University, 2011. https://web.stanford.edu/~jurafsky/freedmanjurafsky2011.pdf

Jurafsky, Dan. The Language of Food: a Linguist Reads the Menu. W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/