The marketing campaigns of multinational corporations are harming our physical, mental and collective wellbeing and the public health movement must take action.
These are the conclusions of Stirling’s Professor Gerard Hastings in his latest book, a hard hitting critique of the power of big business marketing: How the corporation gets its power - and how we reclaim it.
Professor Hastings warns against the ‘industrial epidemics’ of tobacco, alcohol misuse and obesity, which constitute a large share of the public health burden. He argues that they have remained such intractable problems only because our economic system allows free ranging corporations to market the products which create these major public health epidemics.
Professor Hastings says; “The fiduciary imperative places a legal obligation on the corporation to prioritise the needs, not of the consumer, but the shareholder. How else could we have tobacco companies, who are consummate marketers, continuing to produce products that kill one in two of their most loyal customers?
“Evocative promotion, ubiquitous distribution, perpetual new product development and seductive pricing strategies are used to encourage unhealthy consumption.
“And in each case, painstaking research and review has demonstrated the obvious truth that this marketing effort succeeds, especially with the young. The consequence has been the inevitable escalation of lifestyle illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, cirrhosis and diabetes.”
Speaking as a paper based on his book was published by the British Medical Journal, Professor Hastings said: “Corporate Social Responsibility, the ultimate oxymoron, and its country cousin, Cause Related Marketing, are just means of currying favour amongst our political leaders and further extending corporate power.”
Professor Hastings’ book is a call to action to those responsible for public health, who need to recognise:
Marketing by multinational corporations presents a major threat to public health; children are especially vulnerable, but none of us is immune.
As well as lifestyle illnesses such as lung cancer and liver cirrhosis, it threatens our mental health, exacerbates inequalities, undermines progressive public policy and encourages unsustainable consumption habits.
Public health should take a lead in addressing these issues, revitalise its upstream, political functions and regain its role as a champion of the under-privileged.
Public health should also be leading a quest for an economic system that actively promotes better public health.
Professor Hastings believes that failure to act will permit corporate sector marketing to continue to turn us into spoilt, consumption-obsessed children who are simultaneously wrecking our bodies, psyches and planet.