18 March, 2011

Truth in Advertising

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday March 18, 2011

In the current movie The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon is a politician giving a concession speech after losing an election. Bitterly disappointed, he throws away the script and tells the truth.

How his tie was chosen after focus group research, that his "personal beliefs" were dictated by policy committees, that so much of what he had done in politics was hypocrisy.

The public's response is that he suddenly soars in the opinion polls. Could it be that truth is a new marketing direction in politics?

It certainly recalls our Prime Minister's "real Julia" speech in the last election, that arguably helped her scrape back into power.

Or take Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen. His recent histrionics have seen him sacked from top-rating TV show Two and a Half Men. Is his career destroyed?

Well he has organised a stage show for Detroit and Chicago called Charlie Sheen Live: My Violent Torpedo of Truth - and it sold out in hours after his announcement to his two million Twitter followers.

What's more, research by media buying agency MediaCom found 45 per cent of Australian men thought he would make a good spokesman for alcohol ads. The liquor industry was quick to disagree.

MediaCom's Paul Payne commented: "Charlie Sheen has created a new group of predominantly male followers who value his honesty and ‘real’ character shining through."

But what about honesty in marketing? Is there a place for "Truth in Advertising"?

Around the world right now there is a big debate about "Traffic light nutritional information".

"Traffic lights" is a system printed on packages of processed foods, like cereals, snacks or processed meats. And on the menus of fast food stores.

In the UK it has already become law. Foods now show a graphic on the front of the box, with four circles, indicating amount of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. They are coloured either green, amber or red - like traffic lights .

Next to each is a short explanation. A cereal might be low in fat and saturated fat so they would show a green or amber coloured "light". But maybe the sugar content is unacceptably high - that would signal red.

Or maybe a "sugar-free" dessert does indeed show a green-level sugar content, but bright red lights for fat and saturated fat.

It has now been recommended in Australia by the Government's National Food Labelling Review and backed by organisations like the Cancer Council and Choice.

Jane Martin of the Obesity Policy Coalition said these labels, "Are better understood by consumers with lower literacy or from lower socio-economic groups, empowering them to make healthier food choices."

Not everyone agrees. A fierce dogfight has broken out between the food manufacturers and the nutritionists.

Cancer Council Victoria research has found that that 87 per cent of Australian consumers shown the system, liked it. However 77 per cent of food manufacturers hated it.

They have been lobbying hard against the moves. They are willing to highlight a "percentage of daily dietary intake" message.

The foodies will have none of it, they found that consumers are puzzled and confused by that system.

There again, there is yet more news from the inexhaustible flow of research on the topic. Deakin University did a recent test to gauge what effect this new knowledge would have on consumer patterns.

They measured sales of on-line groceries before and after the information was provided, over a 10 week survey.

The result? Thanks for the information, said the consumers, who then continued their usual buying patterns with scarcely a pause.

I'm sure they still watch Two and a Half Men, too.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ray – loved your piece, r
- Richard Neville