A Need For More Responsible Food Marketing
By Alana Sandel
Marketing professionals have an impact on consumers’ quality of life by shaping either positive or negative eating habits. The market is oversaturated with products that are harmful to our health in more ways than one. Many of these products are flying off the shelves due to sticky advertising.
According to Dr. Daniel Amer, “The real weapons of mass destruction are highly processed, pesticide-sprayed, high-glycemic, low-fiber food-like substances in plastic containers.” Research shows that 70.2% of Americans are either overweight or obese.
Marketers contribute to the current health epidemic by dressing up harmful food products through attractive packaging and driving awareness and trial through advertising, sponsorships, gamification and more.
Kids and adults alike are exposed to bad food options as part of their daily lifestyles. Sugary drinks and processed foods are pumped with artificial ingredients while being devoid of nutritional value. These products are everywhere we look — vending machines located in offices, shopping centers and even health care facilities.
Marketing To The Most Vulnerable Demographic
Food marketing targets audiences considered most receptive. However, there is a fine line between smart targeting and deceptive messaging aimed at the most vulnerable.
For example, according to the UCSUSA, “Children are targets of nearly a quarter of the food industry’s advertising budget. Research has shown that they are particularly vulnerable to sugar advertising: they are more receptive to sweet tastes than adults and young children, in particular, do not recognize ’persuasive intent’—in short, they don’t know when they are being marketed to.”
Marketers can find themselves in a difficult spot when asked to design campaigns to target groups of customers with products that might be detrimental to their well-being. Creative professionals who are charged with a task to create sticky advertising for these products should advocate for greater transparency.
For example, pharmaceutical companies integrate disclaimers into campaigns about side effects and potential complications, enabling consumers to weigh the pros and cons of taking a medication. I think a similar approach could be taken with food marketing: “This product contains X amounts of sugar and fructose syrup that might promote obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.”
Until brands transform how they approach product development and make human wellness a priority, marketers will find themselves in an ongoing compromise to cater to business priorities while finding ways to craft messages and targeting practices to limit adverse outcomes.
Marketing professionals whose efforts directly contribute to shaping our well-being must recognize that their efforts have a significant impact on public health. The most immediate step the creative community can take is to start asking critical questions:
- How will this product affect the health and well-being of our target audience?
- Do our marketing claims truly reflect the quality of the products we are going to market?
- Are the reasons to believe in the product authentic?
- How will our product help our audience?
- How will our product harm our audience?
- Does this marketing campaign support our corporate purpose/mission?
Driving The Change
What is encouraging is that the food industry is already undergoing a positive transformation. According to Nielsen, 88% of new food products added to the shelves come from small to medium-sized companies. Twenty years ago, I remember one of the first Whole Foods Stores near me opened, attracting health and wellness mavens. Today, Whole Foods is part of Amazon.
Customers who make educated choices, carefully read labels, make decisions to spend more on high-quality products and learn how to make delicious, healthy meals are the ones driving change by supporting niche brands. Startups have to work hard to win over customers by using high-quality ingredients and speaking from the heart about the products they bring to life. Food is medicine. By supporting smaller brands whose recipes and formulations are kind to our gut, we are investing in wellness for ourselves and society at large.
While there is still a jungle of low-quality products with big marketing budgets that allow them to target millions of consumers, there is also an explosion of creativity from innovative brands when it comes to recipe development and marketing.
For example, Kind Snacks’ messaging focuses on the fact that it uses real ingredients that everyone can understand. Its Kind Bars packaging includes its trademarked “Ingredients you can see and pronounce” slogan. Kind Bars has become one of the biggest brands in the snack bar category, and Mars recently bought a minority stake in the company.
Brands that bring good-for-you products to market by investing in high-quality ingredients should take advantage of social media and influencer marketing. Social channels provide the opportunity to make niche products viral, deliver educational content, create advocacy and collaborate with micro-influencers to raise visibility.
Our client, Lifeway Kefir, jumped on the social media wagon early on. The brand uses its social channels to educate consumers about gut health and the benefits of probiotics and to share delicious recipes made with its product.
While big brands have been on a buying spree, absorbing niche brands, they could benefit by being challenged by the creative community to find ways to innovate internally, especially when over 90% of customers say they are more likely to be loyal to a brand that offers total transparency.
For instance, The Kraft Heinz company recently launched its Springboard platform to help the development of young food brands with authentic propositions. The four pillars it will serve are Natural & Organic, Specialty & Craft, Health & Performance and Experiential brands.
With consumers becoming more educated about wellness and more equipped in sharing information about products in question, marketers should provide insights to the brands they represent to positively shape product development and craft more transparent marketing communications. We can do much better and can help brands do less harm and more good, contribute to wellness, establish long-term brand credibility and encourage consumer trust.
The article originally appeared on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/02/25/a-need-for-more-responsible-food-marketing/#42348cb51fd3