Advertising assault on obesity not enough

Head and shoulders of Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, Griffith University, in front of a bookcase.
Social marketing researcher Associate Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele says an advertising campaign falls short in the battle against obesity.

An $8.5 million anti-obesity advertising campaign in Queensland falls short of the mark, a Griffith University researcher claims.

The Queensland Health media assault on obesity kicked off on Sunday, when the first adverts went to air, but Associate Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele says a more comprehensive approach built around social marketing would bring a more positive outcome.

“Our research shows that a very traditional advertising campaign limits the chances of changing eating and physical activity behavior,” she says.

“Communication is not enough for Queenslanders to become happy and healthy.”

Associate Professor Rundle-Thiele is leading research at Social Marketing @ Griffith into the use of commercial marketing techniques to influence and facilitate behaviors that benefit individuals and communities.

“Our research shows that the use of all six social marketing benchmark criteria increases a social marketer’s chance of changing the targeted behaviour. This implies social marketing extends far beyond a single factor like advertising.”

She says successful marketing techniques used by the food and drink companies the Queensland Health campaign aims to counter should be acknowledged and used in the campaign.

“Food and drink manufacturing companies are criticised for the role they play in the obesity epidemic. But let’s think about how they work.

“Food and drink manufacturers create products that we desire. They offer us products that are cheap, taste good and often lead us to want more, and commercial marketers are very good at delivering products to us at times and places that are convenient.”

“Using these techniques, there is no reason why products, services and environments leading to healthier lifestyles cannot be offered to Queenslanders.”

Associate Professor Rundle-Thiele points to a Federal Government-commissioned roadmap for a Healthier Australia in 2020 where a comprehensive, multi-layered approach was touted as the best way forward.

“In it, they acknowledged the potential role of social marketing where the specific needs of individual groups and communities are considered, and a sustained, appropriately-funded and well-implemented strategy can make a difference.”

Associate Professor Rundle-Thiele believes a more comprehensive campaign could pay off in Queensland which has the highest rate of adult obesity in Australia at 30.4%, compared with 27.5% Australia-wide.

With the obesity epidemic at large in regional Queensland compared with the state’s urban centres, the need for a comprehensive campaign is both obvious and acute, she believes.

“Effective social marketers adopt a full marketing mix of techniques that include providing favourable environments and products, changing pricing, providing sensory appeal, product bundling, promotions, packaging and retail displays to change behaviours for the better.”