In a Forbes post published yesterday, Piere Chandon wrote that contemporary practices by major food marketers are based on the ideology of sensory inundation, which figures that if you see it, then you will likely eat it. These tactics, in turn, have led to a rise in obesity, according to the professor of marketing. Chandon lays out the four main channels—pricing, marketing communication, taste and package, and environment—through which marketers get us with their voodoo, and then goes on to suggest how these practices should be amended.
While the argument appears pretty straightforward on the surface, Chandon glosses over some of the more fundamental causes of poor nutrition in our country. Sure, some strategies employed by marketers are questionable, ruffling many health advocates who decry their psychological tricks. It is dangerous, though, to oversimplify the issue of nutrition as something that boils down entirely to personal choice, which is what Chandon does by framing it as a battle between marketers and consumers.
The idea of choice here is predicated on the assumption that a variety of options are available to begin with. Chandon writes, “Pricing is one of the strongest influences of marketing on obesity and explains why obesity mainly plagues lower-income consumers.” He is somewhat right, as price does contribute to the problem. But research on food deserts—lower-income neighborhoods that lack access to quality grocery stores—suggests that fresh food is often not even offered as an option in the first place. And that analysis doesn’t get at some of the more complex issues surround food access.
So before we shoot the messengers, it’s important to remember that sometimes the marketing works not because it is really effective, but because there are actually no other options available to people.