During the past forty years global rates of overweight and obesity have risen dramatically. In 2010 more than 155 million children worldwide were overweight (more than one in ten) and of these approximately 30-45 million were obese, or between two and three per cent of the world’s 5-17 year-old children.
In Australia, more than 14 million people fall within the overweight or obese range, and Australia is ranked as one of the fattest nations in the developed world. The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and children are at particular risk of overweight and obesity.
But the answer is probably not a ban on all marketing to children. In the first instance, simply the practicalities of a blanket ban would be incredibly difficult, particularly in trying to keep up with the constantly changing promotional environment.
Clearly, some PR company (or companies) is making good money out of convincing large corporations and businesses that the way to get to consumers, in this fragmented media world, is to do long-form advertisements. Rather than short, pithy 30 second spots, there seems to be a bit of a movement toward longer, snappy and emotionally rich adver-films that tell the story about "Our People". Some swelly music, beautiful sweeping pan shots, nice depth of field, and happy smiling faces... you get the picture. The Australian mining industry, the Mormons, and now Qantas have all put together a series of films about how their people, are people, just like you and me.
It is surprising that the practice of marketing (and business strategy more generally) does not explicitly integrate and address the environmental problems and their impacts on mankind.
Yet by not doing so marketing practitioners are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. In the not so distant past businesses were quick to respond to less significant marketing-related problems.
For example, firms, consumers and governments spent hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars dealing with the millennium bug, or Y2K problem. As many will remember computer programs traditionally only had two digit codes for the year and could not adapt to changes associated with moving from the twentieth century to the twenty first century which required a four digit code for the year.
On New Years day, as the Victorian and Northern Territory governments followed NSW, WA and the ACT by implementing laws preventing cigarettes from being put on display to the public, the Australian Medical Association called for a $25 million TV and newspaper advertising campaign showing “damaged vital organs or people drinking liquefied body fat” to shock Australians into giving up junk food and sugary soft drinks. The good doctors based their call upon a belief that the fear-based advertising campaigns used by the TAC (in Victoria) and Quit have been effective in changing behaviour around driving and smoking.
There's a lot more to the success of Masterchef than the cooking.
During the first series of Masterchef, I remember watching a repeat episode on a Sunday afternoon, and thinking that this was going to be a runaway success. I even wrote a letter to the Green Guide editor (which was published) saying that Masterchef was a “revelation” and would be one of the great successes of 2009. It is so nice that I sometimes get my predictions correct (I’m pretty good at guessing the gender of babies in utero, as well).
One of the biggest contributors to obesity and environmental degradation in the past 35 years has been the increasing sophistication of all facets of marketing to create an environment where highly processed and energy dense food is easily available to those living in developed countries.
Although it is typically argued that lifestyles have become more sedentary over this time, it is a fact that consumers have been encouraged through highly sophisticated marketing activities, including supply chain management (e.g., easy access to convenience and processed food), pricing (e.g., reduced costs, better "value" and longer perishability of processed foods), as well as integrated advertising campaigns, to purchase and consume foods that provide a high fat, high sugar, and high salt "hit".
I did live in hope that we wouldn’t go the way of US schools, but I guess it was always going to be a bit difficult to resist. News that “leading educators” (are these official titles?) are willing to back sponsorship of schools by food companies such as McDonalds, and other commercial brands, puts children at more risk than simply being exposed to what Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam says will be “five minutes of advertising a day”.
Of course, numeracy and literacy programs are critical, but at what cost?