Charles Darwin University (CDU) research into the marketing of harmful products was presented at September’s British Academy of Management conference in Birmingham, UK.
This is one of the largest international academic business conferences, with around 1000 delegates from 54 countries presenting more than 800 papers.
At the conference a CDU-led research team comprising professors Steven Greenland and David Low from the Asia Pacific College of Business and Law, and Associate Professor Robert Gill from Swinburne University received the “BAM Best Developmental Paper Award” in the sustainable and responsible business category.
The team conducted a retail audit on a range of supermarket products including harmful products such as beer, soft drinks, chocolate, chips and cigarettes. The research exposes the pricing tactics and deceptive pack communications that are being used by manufacturers of harmful products to increase the consumption.
The pricing tactic involves making it cheaper for consumers if more of the product is purchased. “We found that substantial volume-based discounting is being extensively used to encourage larger purchases,” Professor Greenland said.
“Compared to other supermarket products, the size of these volume-based discounts is significantly greater for harmful products, indicating a strategy specifically aimed at increasing consumption of products such as alcohol, sugary drinks and unhealthy food,” he said.
“A lot of harmful products are under some form of regulatory control, particularly around advertising, so manufacturers are employing other methods to boost consumption,” Professor Greenland said.
“Pricing and pack size is one of these tactics but so are statements manufacturers make on packaging to dupe consumers into the thinking a product is healthier than it actually is,” he said.
Statements such as “No artificial colours or flavours”, “No preservatives” and “No additives” are all designed to alleviate consumers’ health concerns.
“When you consider the health implications of consuming products high in alcohol, salt, sugar or saturated fats – the fact that it has no added colours is disproportional to the overall health implications of consumption,” Professor Greenland said.
“The ‘no additives’ reference is there not to communicate the genuine health impact but to draw attention away from the harmful attributes and to overcome consumers’ reasons for not consuming harmful products.”
The research team said regulators needed to keep up with the tactics used by the manufacturers of harmful products.
“Industry is agile. When profits are at stake because of regulation, it will immediately look at new ways to maintain and grow consumption. Regulators do their best to keep up, but our research indicates more attention needs to be paid to the tactics we have identified,” Professor Greenland said.