Is Marketing Coercive?

Kelly Brownell is sounding the alarm bells at my favorite publication, The Atlantic. The great danger? Sugary beverages. 

He writes:

There is a long list of reasons why these beverages are bad actors:

  • They are the single greatest source of added sugar in the American diet and add little no nutr…

  1. Chris Deleon

    I’m on the fence about this kind of thing.

    It’s horrible the way advertising shapes us, and especially the way it is targeted at children.  Excessive consumerism is a bad thing for our culture and society.  The culture of instant gratification fostered in part by advertising leads to many problems, including debt and an inability to plan for the longer term.

    At the same time, I am reluctant to use the government to quash it.  Unfortunately it is a societal problem that requires a societal solution, and it’s not easy.  There’s a reason we don’t do TV or cable in our house, period.

    To the extent possible, I just distance myself from anything containing excessive advertising of this type, and I teach my children to think critically about ads.

  2. John H.

    Massive marketing…I’m thinking of an example. Not to do with food or nutrition, but I think it counts. Yes: Uruguay, 1985. Signs everywhere, saying Hoy se juega. Took me a while to figure out what this meant: a lottery drawing. Seemed to be a drawing every day I was there. I count it as massive because it saturated the place, and I count it as marketing because it was an encouragement, not merely to spend money, but to spend it on something predictably unrewarding. Really interesting things about the signs: they were all handmade and none bore a signature or logo. If there were a discipline called theoretical advertising, this could be a seminar topic: an “ad campaign” that is declarative, not imperative, just vast numbers of people stating their interest in something, and its being confused by busybodies with an active promotion of something people would rather not do.

    I taught nutrition in 1991-1992, but never touched on fads, because I didn’t care. Shoot, if I were teaching it now, I’d not only talk about fads, I’d talk about metafads! ‘Cause that’s what this neurosis sure is.

  3. Chris O.

    If massive marketing is a bad thing, then someone tell the Obama campaign. Every time I check e-mail, there is some creepy message. “Barack Obama needs your help. Be with us.” Huh? “Join Michelle and tell Barack you’re in.” Weird, cultish copy.

  4. Joseph Stanko

    Clearly the reason children like sugary drinks is their exposure to massive marketing.  I’ll bet if kids were raised in an ad-free environment they’d prefer a nice glass of V8 or carrot juice.  Yup, if there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that you practically have to force them to eat their sweets…

  5. EJHill

    If “massive marketing” is the culprit, then why hasn’t 40 years of PSAs produced by the government and the Ad Council ended drug abuse? Or smoking? Or kept kids in school?

    These spots are just as powerful as any form of advertising. They’ve created cultural catchphrases – “This is your brain on drugs” “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” etc.

    It is nothing more than pseudo-intellectual rationalization for a government extortion ploy. They want to do with the soda bottlers what they’ve done to the tobacco companies – extort millions of dollars in the name of “public health.”

    And it is nothing more than extortion. If smoking was as bad as they claim then ban it. If, in 1964, they had raised the smoking age one year, every year, today only people aged 68 and older would be allowed to buy tobacco. But the real addiction here is the government’s. They are addicted to tobacco taxes and tobacco law suits.

    Now they are in a real budget crisis… so… who do we sue next?!?

  6. John Walker

    There may be “massive marketing”, but I doubt that much of that marketing is actually directed at trying to get people who have never indulged in such beverages to become consumers of them, but rather to win market share for their own product among the vast majority of the populace who already drink them.  The fact is, we’re genetically programmed to gorge on calorie-rich foods, and thus inclined to indulge to excess.

    For years, I have found a useful mental heuristic when pondering these matters to replace “expert” with “idiot” and “study” with “propaganda”—in fact, I’ve made a browser plug-in to do it for you.

    How do we get the information out to parents and people at risk that carbohydrate-rich food and beverages will wear out their pancreas around age 45 and cause this entirely preventable epidemic of “type 2 diabetes”?  In the present environment, beats me.  But if people paid for their own health care and saw the cost trade-offs rather than relying on a third party payer system, I think we’d come closer to closing that feedback loop.

  7. KC Mulville
    John Walker:  very little of that marketing is actually directed at trying to get people who have never indulged in such beverages to become consumers of them, but rather to win market share for their own product among the vast majority of the populace who already drink them.

    Excellent point.

    - – - - 

    I drink soda rarely, so I speak from experience that you can enjoy the product in moderation. So it strikes me as obnoxious for any group to hijack the power of the federal government to enforce their standards about how I should consume any product. That’s my decision, thank you very much. 

    The possibility that others might make different choices … well … that’s the godawful price of freedom.

  8. Ryan M

    I don’t really drink a ton of soda, but…  after reading this post, I walked over to my pantry and grabbed a Dr. Pepper.  Yum.  :)

  9. Ryan M

    Correction.  I walked over to my pantry to grab a Dr. Pepper, and realized that I don’t have any.  So I grabbed a beer instead.  Which brings me to another topic – I live in Washington State, where the campaign to privatize liquor is met with such vitriol and emotion that only Seattle liberals could conjure up (well, ok, not just Seattle).  A liberal friend of mine phrased it thusly:  “Would you vote yes on a proposition to murder 42 people just because you think it will be good for the economy.”  To which I replied, “I do believe that your heart is (sort of) in the right place; it’s your brain that is all out of sorts.”  Oh, well.

  10. wilber forge

     Somehow we are to accept the notion of current advertising is similar to the subliminal suggestions proposed in drive in movie breaks. As in, Lets All Go to the Lobby ?  One never recalls seeing hordes of zombie vampire like creatures ascending on the consession stands with fangs dripping.

    If the nannies were up to snuff, they would have been checking cars with the steamed up windows.

    Who watches commercials anyway ?

    Ninnies, Nannies, everywhere.

  11. K T Cat

    As our prisons are full of young men who grew up without fathers, we might first want to look at the marketing of sex outside of marriage.

    Oh, I’m sorry, that wasn’t the topic, was it?  Please, carry on.  I didn’t mean to be a party pooper.  Forget the young men in prison, the little girls abused by mommy’s boyfriends, the drug-addled kids, the bullets sprayed around the neighborhood by boys whose only interaction with men with authority is when they meet a cop.

    Let’s talk about soft drinks.

  12. Raw Prawn

    I think EJHill’s post is right on the money.

    There’s a radio advertising campaign that gives the game away.  One of the spots goes something like: Radio advertizing is a very powerful weapon; you wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands; those of your competitors.  There’s an extortion racket going on though it’s often difficult to tell who is extorting whom, and for what.

    The reason PSAs don’t seem to be particularly effective is that they are mostly po-faced and negative.  People tune them out.  I believe they are a device by which politicians in office back-hand tax payers’ money to the advertizing industry and the media while appearing to be “doing something”.

    Our pols are currently “doing something” about gambling addiction even though it’s obvious the government’s the biggest addict of all.

    CocaCola is the best example of sucessful massive marketing and it should be noted it’s the absolute opposite of po-faced.  I have heard they spend more on advertizing than on production and distribution.  The market might be nearly as big without adds but there would be more alternatives.

  13. Ottoman Umpire

    This is consistent with Rousseau’s “pusillanimous invalid” worldview of the people. According to the Left, we’re all victims, hoodwinked into buying houses we can’t afford, irresistible Happy Meals for our kids, and boatloads of sodas to guzzle as we careen down the highway in our planet-snuffing SUVs.  

    If only we could have a centralized economic authority (Pope Benedict, are you listening?) to take away these decisions for us.  Oh, what joy!

  14. Randy Weivoda

    A few years ago when hard liquor started being advertised on TV, the hand-wringers all cried “What about the children?”  I haven’t yet overheard any toddlers throwing a tantrum, screaming “Mommy, I want some Captain Morgan Rum!”

  15. James Of England
    Joseph Stanko: Clearly the reason children like sugary drinks is their exposure to massive marketing.  I’ll bet if kids were raised in an ad-free environment they’d prefer a nice glass of V8 or carrot juice.  Yup, if there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that you practically have to force them to eat their sweets… · Nov 4 at 4:33pm

    In my experience, kids are often willing to eat even toffees and chocolates that they have seen no marketing for, but I don’t have so much experience with feeding ‘em soft drinks (“pink milk”, the closest thing I do have to experience with that, can  definitely be blamed on Charlie and Lola’s campaign for the stuff). Could anyone offer anecdotal evidence of kid’s willingness to drink unmarketed sodas?

    Obviously, regardless, Congress [should] pass no law and the Atlantic should be ashamed of publishing this, but the question of how bad the protected speech is still strikes me as interesting.

  16. Beasley

    Exceptionally well written Mr. Gaiser. I have nothing to add, nor it seems is anything necessary.

  17. Sisyphus

    So are we to be permanently infantilized by our susceptibility to endless ads for protection of “the masses” by the grant-seeking class? How many billions do we borrow from the Chinese to subsidize the grant-seeking class advocating illegitimate government intervention in the behavior of free citizens?

    I think I see an opportunity for a small but useful trimming of federal expenditures. Perhaps the 113th Congress will be a better one.

  18. Crow

    “As our prisons are full of young men who grew up without fathers, we might first want to look at the marketing of sex outside of marriage.”

    Move along, folks, nothing to see here…..

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In