Ethical Issues Surrounding Food and Drink Marketing
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Ethical Issues Surrounding Food and Drink Marketing
Hills (1994) stresses that marketing can be considered as one of the most important element underpinning successful business creation. Sheth, Gardner and Garrett (1988) on the other hand, believe that the main purpose of marketing is to create and distribute values among the market parties through the process of transactions and market relationships. The purpose of building a lasting customer relationship is central to the idea of marketing. According to Wansink (2005), food marketing specifically brings together the producer and the consumer as it refers to a chain of activities which brings food from ‘farm gate to plate.’ In this paper, the food and drink industry will be discussed with reference on food marketing strategies. Food marketing practices and unethical issues relating to food marketing specifically in aspect of regulating food marketing will be also addressed.
Contemporary food and drink industry
The food and drink industry is increasingly becoming globalize considering the changing consumer preferences which demands for high levels of innovation. This has made possible the coming together of ‘a multitude of different gastronomy from across the globe’ (Tamlurkar, 2004). Today, there has been a boost in the choices of foods and drink products available for child(ren)/young person, in addition to the fact that, even those who belong to middle income families are now provided with high spending capacities. Contemporary foods are now flooding the markets at affordable prices also. A number of junk foods, for instance, that are mainly consisting of energy-dense fast foods and also carbonated softdrinks of high calories and even sugary breakfast cereals are especially for such segment. Further, the advertising and promotion of these products basically targets such segment especially that they are found to be influential decision-makers (Smith, 2007).
Soft drink industry is divided into two segments namely production of soft drink syrup and manufacturing and/or distribution of soft drinks in retail level. Coke is the second largest softdrinks company in Hong Kong, along with AS Watson & Co Limited as the first and Vitasoy International Holdings Limited as the third. Today, Coke has 300 brands with diverse packaging also such as bottle, aluminum cans and plastic bottles. For Coca-Cola, marketing strategies are used to differentiate the products from the competitors and to obtain competitive advantage. The pricing strategies differ depending on the location where it is sold (Datamonitor, 2007).
Coca-cola as one of the cola giants, the other one being Pepsi is continuously haunted with protests coming from various groups, criticizing its marketing to kids without realizing the social impacts of their advertisements. Advertising, personal selling and publicity are the three most common forms of promotional strategies at Coke, all of which impacts ethical issues especially that campaigns make use of famous celebrities luring child(ren)/young person to purchase their products. There are calls for the company to deal with ethical and responsible marketing basically because Coke brands are one of the primary reasons of obesity in USA. Socially responsible marketing are being prioritized today at work with Coke Zero as the proof of the claim (Girard, 2008).
Marketing practices of food marketers
Tamlurkar (2004) emphasize the point that the marketing practices of the food marketers seemed upright and lawful. Hence, it would be difficult to assess whether a marketing strategy is a normal and ethical marketing practice. One way to determine would be the type of food offered for public consumption that is having its negative impact on the society. Food marketing could be regarded as unethical if they lure and tempt child(ren)/young person by means of attractive offers and promotions who are unaware or limitedly aware of the consequences. Promotional themes which exploit the credulity of this segment and are harmful to their physical, mental or moral health are also considered as unethical (Smith, 2007). Food products that make child(ren)/young person feel inferior to those who possess the products and induce to unduly pressurize their parents/guardians into purchasing those food products are also unethical. Generally, when food products marketing showed more negative than positive impacts on the society it can be also fall under the category of unethical as this can be perceived as misleading.
Unethical behavior of the marketer is not a subject that is easily reconciled especially when they tell that their goal is only repeat business. Satisfying a customer’s needs is important for food marketers. However, such statement could be abused like when young adults purchase cigarette or for an already obese child who prefer to buy sweets and other fatty, oily foods. There are also customer demands to satisfy which can do good for that person but will not on society in general. An example of this would be selling chocolates in fancy plastic wrappers. With these things in mind, there are four ethical food marketing challenges: interests and behaviors of the food marketers, consumer’s liability in reducing negative impacts of the products bought and reducing consumptions of products which have ill-effects on the public in general and most appropriate interventions (Tamlurkar, 2004).
It is a commonplace in the food and drink industry that the food marketers will naturally make every effort to maximize their profits. The negative consequences of the food products, though known but not publicly stated, will be regarded as the result of the free choice of the consumers. Products such as burgers, sweets and softdrinks are very popular among the young children and teenage group and parents know that these products are poor in nutrients. Because of the fact that food and beverage firms are not ready to reduce their sales on the basis of capitalizing on the purchasing power of child(ren)/young person, the very least that the government can do is to put pressure on these companies like, for example, in stating nutritional contents and ingredients on their packaging (Tamlurkar, 2004). As also part of these companies corporate social responsibility (CSR), firms are obliged to put statutory warnings. Nonetheless, resistance could come from the consumers themselves especially when the companies failed to comply with governmental demands (Regmi, 2001).
Promotional regulations on food marketing
When it comes to intervention or reduced consumption, there is an ongoing debate. On the one hand, food marketers argue that it is not their objective to make society a better place instead to sell and earn profits in legal way. On the other, there are people especially parents who concerns the personal and societal costs of unregulated consumption. Heavy health costs of food-related diseases and its comorbidities as outcomes of failure to reduce consumption are of high concern also. In connection, health costs directly and indirectly affects the people through medical costs and taxes. To strike a balance, governments focus on promotional regulations, concerning the strategies of the food marketers and legislations imposed (Tamlurkar, 2004).
Television is treated as the most powerful medium of communication hence TV is used by the food marketers to introduce, promote and advertise their products on child(ren)/young person. There had been proposals to restrict television advertising particularly on the timing and content of the advertisements. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2004), television is the most popular means of promoting food and beverages, making it a subject of more debate in terms of its effects on children. There are two approaches to television advertising regulation as statutory and self-regulation, but mostly these two coexist. The principle is that television advertising should not be deceitful or misleading. Since regulations recognize children as a special group, television advertising intended to children should not be harmful or exploitative of their gullibility (Humphery, 1998).
In-premises marketing or those which market their products through visiting the place of customer such as schools, colleges and offices or homes to promote products is increasingly becoming common as well. Such strategy is utilized because it can target an array of categories and not just the child(ren)/young person, gathering in their respective places (Regmi, 2001). Direct advertising is the technique mainly used wherein food products, even those which do not contain minimum nutritional value is being sold. In schools, restrictions encompasses prohibition of commercial solicitation, non-distribution of advertisements and other marketing materials minus the consent of the parents in advance and allowing only those marketing activities that have educational objective. Nevertheless, regulating in-school marketing is not a common practice and there are only few schools that have regulations on restricting sales of selected food products in school (Tamlurkar, 2004).
When food companies provide funds and other resources to an event or an activity, sponsorship happens. In sponsorship, there is a trade off whereby the access to exploitable commercial potential that is associated with that event is the goal. Compared to conventional advertising, sponsorship benefits food companies to reach a wider market at a lower expense. Being a sponsor, food companies could have influence on the content and cause of the program therefore they can demand and create more publicity for the company and the products they sell. Sponsorship of children’s programs, under certain regulations, is banned as well as purchasing or renting the products of sponsors (WHO, 2004).
Product placement, where visual or graphic uses of message, logo or object unique to the food companies or products in exchange of payment, is also a common practice nowadays. Films, television programs, music videos and computer games among several others are the most common avenue for product placement. Product placements are generally cost-effective and less disruptive. Even so, there are countries including the United Kingdom that ban product placements while it is used in restrictive time in other countries. As such, product placement is not widely restricted and self-regulation is also blurry (WHO, 2004).
Internet-based marketing techniques are also targeted to child(ren)/young person as they are tended to browse the net for longer hours than their adult counterpart. Further, interactive games, competitions, attractive sites equipped with flashy graphics, chat and email facilities are the common strategies used. There are also downloadable sites free of charge in exchange of personal data of the visitors. Statutory guidelines are available aside from restrictions with self-regulatory codes. Generally though, regulations directly intended for the Internet-based marketing techniques are still in its developmental stage (Tamlurkar, 2004).
In sum, food marketing has its own share of unethical practices. Since it is difficult for governments to pinpoint which marketing practice is ethical or unethical what various governments did was to regulate food marketing strategies. There are five of these food marketing strategies that are in consideration: television, in-premises especially school, sponsorship, product placement and Internet.
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