Food Marketing: Needs, Wants, and Demands

Sucker HeadThe very core competence of any marketer is to understand the needs, wants, and demands of its consumers. Nutritious food is a basic human need for survival. Consumers may also want the pleasure that junk foods provide them, but that pleasure not a fundamental need. It is simply a desire waiting to be tapped. Skilled marketers understand consumer desires and build brands to meet them. Demand results when needs and desires connect to a brand that consumers can actually buy.

Public health advocates concerned with the quality of the food supply tend to look only at the tip of this marketing iceberg — advertising for the final product. You can find a rich body of literature that models all the benefits that will come from limiting the marketing of junk food to children. On first pass, Google Scholar will give you more than a million references.

The problem, as Jennifer Pomeranz and Sabrina Adler explain in their recent publication, is that:

The tendency of businesses to challenge any regulation of corporate activities on First Amendment grounds has the potential to limit the government’s ability to address the issue of unhealthy food marketing.

Simplistic advertising bans and exclusively adversarial strategies for controlling the marketing tactics of food and beverage industries will inevitably fail. They will fail because the marketing mix is infinitely more complex that it was when a ban on television advertising for cigarettes was enough to bend the demand curve. They will fail because consumers will still need food and marketers will continue to offer brands that connect with their desires.

Progress will not come without genuine give and take between public health professionals, nutrition scientists, and food marketers to fix our broken food supply and the food marketing strategies behind it.

It will happen when food marketers successfully tap into another consumer desire: good health and quality of life.

Click here to read the publication from Pomeranz and Alder. Click here to read a view on food marketing and childhood obesity.

Saf-T-Pops, image © Classic Film / flickr

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July 30, 2015