Ketchup does not need to be kept in the fridge, apples sold in supermarkets may have been picked a year ago and there is no proof that hand gel can protect us from swine flu.
If we act as if the reverse is true, it is because big consumer brands have bombarded our subconscious — and won.
That is the argument of Martin Lindstrom in his latest book, "Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy," published by Crown Business. People, he argues, do not really know what they are buying or why they are buying it.
We are attracted to foods that are "all-natural" without realizing the phrase is virtually meaningless. We are hooked by "vanity sizing," whereby retailers understate clothes sizes to make us feel slimmer.
For Lindstrom, a Danish American marketer who has worked with some heavyweight brands, this stance is tantamount to going rogue.
His previous book, "Buyology," argued that marketers should manipulate consumers' thoughts using neuroscience. These days he continues to boast that he once convinced South American bank clients that their queuing time had fallen, just by changing the background music in their branches.
But, as a consumer, he declares that he has "quite simply had enough" of such trickery.
Companies sell illusions and duds, he asserts — one brand of lip gloss, for example, that purports to nurture actually eats away at our lips.
Lindstrom is particularly concerned by word-of-mouth marketing, in which our acquaintances encourage us to use a product. For example, Amazon shoppers can choose to see how many of their Facebook friends like a product as they ponder whether to buy it.
"It's data mining meets peer pressure," Lindstrom says.
He set up an experiment in which a family with an enviable lifestyle moves to a new area and starts recommending brands to their neighbors. Their influence is substantial: On average, each neighbor tries three of the brands suggested by the stealth marketers.
This leads Lindstrom to consider a nightmare scenario: "In the future, companies will hire and plant thousands of … families in communities everywhere, tasking them with the mission of promoting a brand."
Unfortunately, "Brandwashed" has two major shortcomings.
First is that not much of this is new. Lindstrom's own insights are unremarkable. He tries a "brand detox" — a year without buying a single branded product, not ordering so much as a Coke from an air steward. He stuck at it for six months. His conclusion? It is very hard to live without brands.
Many consumers will already know that — just as they know that their loyalty cards collect personal information to be used for future marketing, and that the smell of fresh bread is pumped around supermarkets.
Even the idea of the stealth-marketing family is derived from the 2009 film "The Joneses," starring Demi Moore.
That leads to the second shortcoming: Although the book is good at exposing marketing strategies, Lindstrom offers little on how to deal with this threat.
Lindstrom is not suggesting tougher legislation. Instead, he wants consumers to hold deceitful brands accountable by exposing their half-truths online.
The problem is if consumers are so easily duped by marketing strategies, how will they be able to provide such a critique? Moreover, he does not offer much evidence that such pressure would embarrass brands or change their marketing campaigns.
"Brandwashed" is neither the promised insider's guide to marketing nor a consumer's manifesto.
With its jazzy title, endorsements and gimmicks, one could even argue that it is marketed as sneakily as any of the products it criticizes.
Henry Mance is a contributor to the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.