641: Free

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Asbestos is bad; definitely get the one on the right. Wait -- this one over here has no swine flu! Now I can't decide.
Title text: Asbestos is bad; definitely get the one on the right. Wait -- this one over here has no swine flu! Now I can't decide.


Asbestos is a fibrous material most commonly known and used for its heat-resistant properties. It was commonly used in housing insulation until its astonishingly destructive effects on human lungs were discovered. The use of asbestos in housing is now banned, but asbestos is still quite common in laboratory hot pads, as well as in concrete industrial buildings where the risk of it getting into the air is minimal.

The comic depicts a common advertising trick taken to an absurd extreme; quite clearly all of the cereal products depicted are asbestos-free, but most have opted not to advertise that fact (if it even occurred to them at all) because it should be obvious. However, since only the one brand of cereal is advertising it, it implies that it is not unusual to make cereal with asbestos. A more realistic example can be found in confectionery products, wherein the term "fat free" might be applied when it's clear that sugar, gelatin, and other ingredients involved in the product are in no way related to, or contain, fat. Note that in some countries, like Germany for example, this practice is actually not allowed, since it counts as "misleading advertising".

While the suggestive implication might be that competitive products do not declare as asbestos free because they cannot truthfully say this, the irony may be that the "asbestos-free" disclaimer could also cause a customer to distrust the product on the grounds of damning by faint praise—if the best thing they can say about a product is that it doesn't contain a toxic building material, do we really want to know what actually is in this stuff?

The claim in the title text—that a rival product has no swine flu—is equally superfluous, as any food product containing disease-causing viruses would be subject to recalls, severe fines, and quite a few people losing their jobs; the fact that the product is actually on a supermarket shelf implies that it already has a stellar reputation for not causing serious illness.[citation needed] The use of it here could also be a reference to 574: Swine Flu.

The competing claims, however, sets up the hopefully false risks involved in whether to choose the one with definitely no asbestos (but possibly contains swine flu) or the other that definitely has no swine flu (but may include asbestos).

  • RedFarm is a Chinese restaurant in NYC.

Misleading advertising is also the subject of the previous comic 624: Branding, and of subsequent comics 870: Advertising and 993: Brand Identity.


  • This comic is the TropeNamer of a documented trope, as well as being the page image for that trope's entry.


[A shelf holds 3 boxes of cereal. Each box shows a bowl of cereal.]
GenCo Ⓞat Cereal
StayPuft Oat Cereal
RedFarm Oat Cereal (with additional text in a star) Asbestos-free!
I hate whatever marketer first realized you could do this.

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"it doesn't contain a synthetic, lab-grown building material"

Actually asbestos is a natural material (so some marketers would have you believe it can't be bad). It used to be mined in Quebec.

That's the danger in associating synthetic as evil. Synthetic oil does better than natural oil, for cars. GMO doesn't necessarily mean something bad. Cross breeding is essentially GMO, if you take the literal definition of the phrase "Genetically Modified Organisms". Cflare (talk) 14:07, 5 August 2014 (UTC)

Modified the above to switch the example from "cholesterol" to "fat". The statement:

A more realistic example can be found in various fruit- and vegetable-based foods that advertise themselves as "cholesterol-free," which is exactly what we would expect since cholesterol is only found in animals in nature.

is false as plants do contain small amounts of cholesterol, although they tend to rely more on phytosterols for cellular function rather than cholesterol which animals rely upon (see Cholesterol:Physiology). For clarification, the term "cholesterol free" applies when there exists less than 2mg of cholesterol per serving (see FDA CFR Title 21 Subpart D 101.62, under (c)Fatty acid content claims). Thokling (talk) 12:02, 29 September 2013 (UTC)

Why is there just a random mention of redfarm and staypuft? -- 00:19, 11 May 2015 (UTC) ^^I second this.

Is GenCo a reference to GeneCo from Repo: A Genetic Opera? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I took "GenCo" and the ring symbol (Ⓞ in the transcript) as a reference to Cheerios, made by General Mills. --Tepples (talk) 21:34, 25 June 2015 (UTC)
Or it could just be short for Generic company. -Pennpenn 06:01, 26 June 2015 (UTC)

Today, we have every poultry company advertising that their chicken has no antibiotics, even though they then have to admit in the fine print that it is against federal law to use antibiotics on chickens. Cosumel (talk) 04:40, 10 March 2020 (UTC)

Should it be mentioned this a Trope Namer on TVTropes?