Issue 7
Monday, 22 May 2017
Charles Darwin University
Professor Steve Greenland: Better public health regulations
Professor Steve Greenland: Better public health regulations

Academic warns of unhealthy marketing tricks

By Patrick Nelson

CDU Business School Professor in Marketing Steve Greenland said it was simply unacceptable to continue to allow the use of persuasive pricing practices and deceptive messages about the "healthiness" of products that are detrimental to public health.

“I take issue with marketing deceptions that fuel the non-communicable disease epidemic, the world’s biggest cause of chronic ill-health and death,” Professor Greenland said.

“For example, the ‘bulk-buy discount’ tactic is designed to condition consumers to make larger purchases while actively discouraging the purchase of smaller quantities.

“As a case in point, a single bottle of beer is more than double the price of bottles in a carton of 24. Similarly a single item of confectionary can be four times more expensive than the same item purchased in a multi-pack, and multiply this by six times for soft drinks.”

Professor Greenland said marketing initiatives that sought to reduce the perceived health risks associated with some products also were dubious.

“Tobacco manufacturers have used colour and naming strategies to imply that some brand variants are less of a risk. But if a smoker thinks their gold or silver or white cigarette is healthier, then they’ve been hoodwinked.

“Similarly the health connotations in phrases such as ‘no artificial colours’, ‘no additives’, and words such as ‘thin’ used to promote potato chips and ‘goodness’ implied in chocolate promotions, were a reflection of manufacturers’ attempts to reduce the perceived risks associated with consuming their products.”

Professor Greenland said he was not calling for a ban on these products, or on discount bulk buying for products that were not harmful.

“I have no problem with people buying a beer. But I would argue that there should be a volume unit price for products, which remains the same regardless of whether you buy a single item or a six-pack.

“Volume-based discounting should be discontinued when applied to harmful products. Similarly communication that reduces perceived health risks should be restricted.”

Professor Greenland said that critics of public health regulations should remember that non-communicable deaths were responsible for more than 90 per cent of deaths in Australia, mainly through cardio-vascular disease, cancers, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

“Marketing can do a great deal of good, but it grieves me to see it used to increase sales without regard for people’s health,” he said.