Apathy is rife in Australia.
The comfort of ignorance is our national pastime.
What we don’t know won’t hurt us. Wrong.
So it is that consumers, food retailers and policy-makers alike have just been dealt a serious reality-check.
Everyone has leapt to their own vindication in a bemusing flurry of blame and finger-pointing.
“I didn’t understand” is not a defence.
Let’s be clear. Product labelling is not a cause. It is symptomatic of the fact that Australians will shove anything into their shopping trolley.
Exactly two years ago I published the following opinion piece.
This week is one of mixed emotions for me.
Australia needs a food-safety scare
Australian food consumers need a food-safety scare, so they wake-up to their dangerous indifference about how the food system has changed. People are simply not asking enough questions about where their food comes from and how it was prepared.
A crazy proposition I know; but I have experimented with this topic in dozens of conversations.
Changing peoples’ attitudes is a significant challenge. As the best marketers will tell you, it’s very, very difficult. Indifference is possibly the toughest of them all.
Australia’s agricultural and food production industries have tried repeatedly to change the indifferent attitude of Australian consumers. Campaigns have been aspirational at best and it isn’t working.
Australian’s have a strange habit of saying one thing and doing the complete opposite – despite what they tell us in numerous surveys about food.
It is not confined to buying groceries. For example, Australians say they will donate their organs - but don’t. Australians say they will give blood – but don’t.
This phenomenon is known as stated preferences versus revealed preferences. Revealed preference is an academic way of saying that people are actually very lazy.
Understanding how Australian consumers behave highlights the need for better marketing strategy.
A key tactic for changing someone’s indifferent attitude is to find the associated pressure-point in their life - and press it.
So where is the pressure-point for Australian food consumers? It’s inside their homes and in their fridge; in their pantry and on their dining table. We need to get a message about food into peoples’ lounge rooms.
If people are nervous about what they are putting into their kids lunch boxes; what’s going into the fridge; what’s going onto the kitchen table at night – they will start to ask questions.
People talk when they are nervous and so the message is leveraged through the power of shared experience. If something happens to make Australian consumers nervous about where their food comes from, it becomes a shared experience. Picture this - it would be the number one topic at school drop-off points, in the school canteens, at family functions, at kids sport on Saturday mornings, Facebook and so on.
The power of questioning turns retailers into allies of our food industry. A food-safety scare would cause consumers to start hammering food retailers with questions, questions and more questions about the food on their shelves. Nothing makes a corporation change faster than when they are getting beaten around the head by angry communities who are banging their fists on the table demanding that ‘if you don’t answer our questions, we’ll shop somewhere else.’
Unfortunately, people are simply not asking questions about their food.
How do we scare people without making them sick?
Remember the Grim Reaper advertisements on TV that scared everyone into changing their social habits.
A legendary campaign, watched in peoples’ lounge rooms around Australia every night in 1987. My idea is that we do a similar ‘grim reaper’ campaign about imported food, to show consumers what might happen if there is an accident regarding imported food from a country that has poor production safety standards.
If we had a grim reaper bowling an imported apple at a bunch of school kids, I think it would get peoples’ attention. Watch the ad now and imagine it talking about imported food. Replace the words always use condoms with always read the label.
So, what I’ve been proposing all along is that we don’t have an actual food safety scare and people actually start getting sick – we create one, by putting the notion in peoples’ heads of what might happen if they don’t change their poor attitude. That’s all the Aids campaign did – the people watching it did the rest e.g. remember all the talk about the ad?
How do we know this works? Well, at the moment there are other countries in the process of restructuring their entire food chain, because there was a food safety scare and consumers have now demanded change. But for them it was too late. Think horse meat. Think baby formula. Think milk contamination.
Anyway, just a few thoughts to make a point and stir discussion - because I don’t think what we’ve been doing are very effective.
What do you think? Should we use the Grim Reaper tactic?