Answering Adam: Why advertising spin does harm consumers

In response to Adam Ferrier’s article on whether advertising spin is actually OK, TV luminary Nick Murray argues it is not.

As Adam Ferrier correctly points out in his wonderfully provocative article the ABC’s consumer affairs show The Checkout takes aim at brands which charge more for products marketed by preying on desires and fears in nearly every episode. I make TV shows including The Checkout, so I thought I’d give a non marketer’s perspective.

checkout logoThe Checkout isn’t saying advertising is bad, nor that creating demand or triggering aspirational thoughts is sinful – there is nothing inherently dishonest about advertising a more glamorous pack and fragrance so everyone feels better about the product and hence themselves.

We are saying it is wrong or at least questionable for corporations to con and frighten their own customers into buying exactly the same product at vastly different prices based simply on different words on the label.

This week The Checkout highlights Allergan eye drops which are more than twice the price compared to exactly the same product, simply because one bottle mentions “Contact Lenses”. To me, this is calculated corporate fraud, rather than harmless marketing to create demand. It can’t be brushed away with the argument that ripping off consumers is good for the economy.

A cursory examination of the companies doing the conning, reveals that a large proportion of them are foreign. That in itself isn’t terrible either. But if the argument is that paying extra for the same thing stimulates the economy, it would be good if the profits from the rip-off stayed here.



But companies like Johnson & Johnson (Baby Skincare), Allergan (Refresh Eye Drops), Reckitt Benckiser (Nurofen) are foreign operations. So whatever stimulus effect unnecessarily paying extra for their product creates, it evaporates into the offshore operations. In fact, depending on the tax structure of the company, they may not even pay tax on these additional profits in Australia or indeed anywhere.

And if stealing money from unwitting consumers can save the planet’s finite resources, then this doesn’t explain why Allergan can overprice an essential product for contact lens users. The same resources are used in both products. You can buy a bottle of Allergan Refresh “Tears Plus” for $7.30 instead of Allergan Refresh “Contacts” for $15.80 – they are exactly the same product but one costs 216 per cent more than the other.

At The Checkout, we don’t think this is the fault of advertising, it’s plain old profiteering by the manufacturer (or “Brand”).

That, in turn, is ripping off customers and leaving them with less to spend on the categories that do spend money on advertising – like beer and pizza.

Last year Nick Murray spoke to Encore about making The Checkout.

Nick Murray is managing director or production company CJZ and executive producer of The Checkout.


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