I've been historically a bit of a critic of a number of companies and brands for their often deceptive approaches to food marketing. In Thinking Fast and Slow About Consumer Perceptions of Technology and Sustainability in Agriculture and The 'free from' Nash Equilibrium Food Labeling Strategy I discuss how food marketing efforts leverage consumer behavioral biases to promote their products at the expense of science literacy and possibly in direct contradiction to consumer preferences related to healthy and sustainable food systems.
There are big costs to these marketing tactics (which borderline misinformation and disinformation campaigns). In their research "Monetizing disinformation in the attention economy: The case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)" Ryan, Schaul, Butner and Swarthout provide an in depth background on the attention economy, disinformation, the role of the media and marketing as well as socioeconomic impacts. They articulate how how rent seekers and special interests are able to use disinformation in a way to create and economize on misleading but coherent stories with externalities impacting business, public policy, technology adoption, and health. These costs, when quantified can be substantial and should not be ignored:
"Less visible costs are diminished confidence in science, and the loss of important innovations and foregone innovation capacities"
See additional links that follow for more background and context around behavioral economics and food marketing tactics. But in a world where deceptive advertising has often often been the norm and even praised (Chipotle comes to mind see here and here), out of nowhere comes this viral storm of tweets from Steak-umm pushing back against misinformation related to coronavirus:
friendly reminder in times of uncertainty and misinformation: anecdotes are not data. (good) data is carefully measured and collected information based on a range of subject-dependent factors, including, but not limited to, controlled variables, meta-analysis, and randomization— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) April 7, 2020
In explaining 'why' they think their messaging was so effective they state:
They clearly get that evidence doesn't necessarily move the needle when it comes to science communication and persuasion. As discussed in a number of the posts below consumers tend to believe the things that maximize utility, not necessarily their science or policy literacy. How emotional attitude (system 1) drives beliefs about benefits and risks and overrides careful thinking about the strength of actual evidence.people think it's bizarre, ironic, and funny when a frozen meat company points out the importance of critical thinking, but chances are the same message would never "go viral" if it was from a person. our society values entertainment over truth and that's a huge problem— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) April 8, 2020
The heroes of the day, @steak_umm have clearly figured this out and demonstrate that in addition to the coherence of the story, entertainment value goes a long way getting folks to pay attention.
Thinking Fast and Slow About Consumer Perceptions of Technology and Sustainability
Rational Irrationality and Satter's Hierarchy of Food Needs
The 'free from' Nash Equilibrium Food Labeling Strategy
Polarized Beliefs on Controversial Science Topics
Voter Preferences, The Median Voter Theorem, and Systematic Policy Bias