The consumer always has last word


THE BROADCAST tobacco advertising ban in 1971 signaled the death of the tobacco industry. Commentators began writing the epitaph for cigarette manufacturers with boos and jeers.

Fast forward four decades later, the world has more than a billion smokers and the figure is rising according to the world health organisation. On-the-side advertisers using positive messages about products to lure customers and on the other health activists make negative assertions about the same products, it seems consumer has the last word.

The tobacco industry has received a new lease of life by targeting developing countries particularly women.

Tobacco advertisers constantly equate smoking to emancipation or women’s liberation.

This is evidenced by a billboard advertisement of a popular cigarette brand which featured a young woman relaxing at a park with a cigarette in hand and a caption which read “do I look like I would cook you breakfast?” While advertisers are convincing women to smoke, health advocacy groups are disseminating information on the various health risks that affect smoking women.

These include increased risk of cervical cancer, osteoporosis and strokes. With all these warnings, there is an increase in the total number of women smokers.

The promise of freedom makes smoking irresistible for the women who are adopting more dominant roles in society where they are associated with sophistication and tiredness therefore smoking with men is a sign of gender equality. Researchers found that in countries where tobacco advertising is banned, smoking tends to increase, because banning advertising also bans the association health warning and this has a positive effort on consumption.

Food advertising has also been under security since 1973.

The bulk of food advertising dollars is spent on sugary cereals, chocolate bars and fatty snacks.

This has promoted health department to issue warning about increasing obesity and the need for sharp reductions in sugar and fat consumption, Sweden and Canada banned advertising on children’s programmes while Holland banned confectionary advertisement before 8pm.

It is worth notice that food advertising campaigns takes places in the context of a service of interconnected markets which are regularly exposed not only to other types of product advertising, but also to a great deal of information on diet and health.

Advertisers seek to provide positive information about any brand or product while the medical profession and media supply “negative information about some products” (dairy products and refined sugar) and positive information for others (whole grain cereals and vegetables).

Critics or food advertising claim advertising provides positive information about a product of undermining public evocation efforts.

They question whether it is socially responsible to permit advertising which runs counter to official government health policy.

Consumer decides to go with the health experts on this one as evidenced by their doubts about the validity of information provided by vested interests (advertisers) coupled with a greater sense of trust in government and the medical profession.

With the trust bestowed upon them by trusting consumers, the health experts began to unveil the health commandments, suddenly; consumers now could not eat beef, lamb, eggs and chicken among other foods.

Faced with new health scares everyday and a mass of conflicting evidence, the ordinary consumer began to feel utterly bewildered.

If not very afraid, for example those who love lamb who assume that it is safer than beef is being informed that lamb is contaminated with campylobacter, a bug which causes food poisoning.

The dispirited consumer is also bombarded with information from the health department which is trying to avoid a health scare on the other hand there is no hard evidence that the lamb meat poses a real danger to human health. In the mean time science is casting doubt on the dangers of beef eating.

As the world becomes more and more technology advanced, it becomes necessarily difficult to understand most of the everyday tools products and services on which the consumer rely son.

The more knowledge the consumer has the dependent on experts he becomes.

However, in this fast moving world, experts are no longer exported that the consumer.

Scientists cannot agree whether it is dangerous to eat beef and politicians are more threatened by the prospects of a devastated farming industry. Consumer feels betrayed by the bland reassurance which has ferreted the trust once bestowed upon them.

What advertisers and health activists need to realise is that consumers have the right to all available information but it has to be communicated in such a way as to make their own decision.

Experts have to win back some of the consumer’s trust order to persuade him/her that some threats are real and worth taking action over on the other hand advertisers also have to be transparent by volunteering pertinent information in order to gain the consumer’s trust.

 Harriman Chidawanyika is a consumer psychologist.