Thursday, 25 October 2012

Guilt Free

'Free From' is a pernicious marketing phrase used to mask highly palatable non-foods as healthy.  'Guilt free' is an equally potent phrase.  I was listening to an interview with Sian Jarvis on Radio 4 the other morning and this latter phrase cropped up again in what is being generally considered a 'gaffe'.

Jarvis used to be a director-general for the Department of Health but recently left to work in PR/spin for Asda.  On the Radio 4 interview Jarvis unwittingly opened the window on commercial exploitation of 'Cash at the Candy Register' (which I tweeted about on 12th October).  The Independent takes up the story,
  • Sian Jarvis inadvertently admitted that two-thirds of the chain's stores are still "guilty," as they say in the trade – guilty of flooding their checkouts with confectionery. Critics say this encourages shoppers to overindulge on sweets and children to wrangle chocolate out of worn-down parents. It was during an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Ms Jarvis proudly announced: "One in three of our checkouts are what we call guilt-free checkouts."
 This comment was seized upon by the interviewer,
  • Spotting the statistic underlying the spin, however, presenter James Naughtie quickly highlighted the rather more embarrassing truth of the statistic. "If you're telling me that one out of three Asda checkouts are guilt-free," he said, "then by your terminology two out of three are guilty. Two out of three are guilt-laden and one is guilt-free."

What followed was an awkward few minutes of back-peddling by Jarvis.  The concept of 'Cash at the Candy Register' hinges on the cognitive burden place upon 'consumers' by careful product placement (for which we should read 'a parent with a bored child stuck in a queue at a cash register surrounded by chocolate bars').  The NEJM article concludes,

  • We need to test new approaches to risk reduction that do not place additional cognitive demands on the population, such as limiting the types of foods that can be displayed in prominent end-of-aisle locations and restricting foods associated with chronic diseases to locations that require a deliberate search to find. Harnessing marketing research to control obesity could help millions of people who desperately want to reduce their risks of chronic diseases.
 Follow the money.

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