From obesity to that ‘quenelle’ salute, marketers must be the moral compass

One in three adults is overweight or obese, according to a report from the Overseas Development Institute this month. That figure has quadrupled since 1980. The report’s more specific obesity data makes pretty miserable reading too. Sixty-four per cent of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, just behind the US at 70 per cent. 

Ruth Mortimer

This isn’t simply an issue for rich, developed nations; it is also now true of developing nations too. The report warns there are now twice as many obese people in poor countries as rich ones.

So obesity is a problem for everyone. It’s not enough to promote healthier products in January, this is an ongoing issue where marketers need to take the lead. Marketers are the best people in the world at convincing the public they need and want things; they need to be on the front line of battling obesity.

With this in mind, our cover story this week (page 10) looks at responsible marketing. While 38 businesses have signed up to the Government’s ‘responsibility deal’ to reduce sugar and fat within their products and avoid stricter regulation, does this go far enough? What can be learnt from the responsibility drives in the alcohol sector?

We also look at some of the issues that may face brands in future as a result of the obesity epidemic. Richard Cope, who monitors trends at Mintel, warns that consumers are set to monitor their own lifestyles and food and drink intake even more heavily in future. “People are becoming more aware that their data is a currency,” says Cope. “I think we’re heading to a scenario ultimately where you will get opt-in services so that if I shop in Tesco every month, I can ask Tesco ‘How many calories am I buying?’ or ‘How much Omega 3 am I buying?’”

Our columnist Alex Tait picks up on these data issues in his column on page 9. He says that as wearable tech and the Internet of Things move into the mainstream, these connected devices will offer even more data on people’s lifestyles for marketers to exploit. But Tait warns that how brands use that data will also then fall under greater scrutiny. Consumers, he says, are increasingly demanding that brands be responsible and have a purpose or mission beyond simply profit generation.

Ethical and transparent marketing, whether it involves managing data, personal consumption or behaviour, is an issue that will not go away in 2014. With Marketing Week breaking the story last week that sponsor Zoopla will be cutting ties with West Brom after the football club refused to condemn Nicolas Anelka’s controversial ‘quenelle’ salute, the ethics of commercial deals in every area will be coming under scrutiny this year. Marketers, get ready.

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