Resistance and Submission- The Power of Negative Publicity



      While the power of publicity is a well-known tool of business, it is a less understood fact that negative publicity can create more business and public awareness in its wake. Witness British sugar consumption levels in the 18th century. At the time, vast commercial interests were beginning to build commerce networks in Europe and around the world. Chocolate and sugar were among those products that were highly desired among the privileged class in Europe. This fact made the consumption of chocolate and sugar somewhat of an elite hobby–more reserved for the elites/well moneyed in Europe. As far as chocolate and sugar sales, this may not have been the best way to maximize your chocolate/sugar company sales. It is interesting to note that, just like today, when these two products (sugar in particular) began to experience pushback in the form of negative publicity, the sales of these products started to head upward. For example, when British traveler and philanthropist Jonas Hanway stated that sugar creates: ” fantastic desires and bad habits in which nature has no part”, his was a mild form of protest of the perceived evils of sugar (Levinovitz, 2015, p. 1). Of course, Hanway also considered tea to be akin to drinking gin and that “there is not quite so much beauty in this sand as there was” due to the British tea habit sapping the beauty of the woman of Britian (“Tea,” 2015, p. 1). At the time, the English consumed around four kilograms of sugar per year (“Sugar,” 2000, p. 3).


photo credit: Mary likes cake via photopin (license)


It was not long after that in 1852 when sugar came under a more rigorous attack from physicians like James Redfield, who claimed that every time the carbohydrate was refined, it was another “stage in the down-hill course of deception and mockery, of cowardice, cruelty, and degradation” (Kawash, 2013, p. 75). This harsh criticism from a credible authority was accompanied by the doubling of British sugar consumption (“Sugar,” 2000, p. 3). Of course, there were many other factors involved with the exponential rise in the popularity of sugar in this time: a budding global economy, a rapidly expanding industrial capability and the beginnings of international commerce and banking all had a hand in it. Yet, it is a classical psychological trait that the beginnings of sugar’s negative publicity was also the time when sugar was beginning to be written about as something that gives the consumer “fantastic desires” and the like (“Reactance,” 1977, p. 1).

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 3.58.23 PM.pngSugar’s meteoric rise to popularity (credit enclosed in graphic)


Fast-forward to the present alarmist press being given to sugar and compare it with the popularity of it now. “Sugar: Killing us Sweetly. Staggering Health Consequences of Sugar on Health of Americans” is an article by Dr. Gary Null on the website. His findings indicate: “30%–40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar and suggests that our national addiction to sugar is around $1 trillion in healthcare costs each year (Null, 2014, p. 1). You might accurately guess that sugar consumption is up as well. How much? 60 Kilograms per person per year, almost ten times the amount when it began its meteoric rise to popularity. One might consider comparing the health consequences over the same period of time to see if there has been an impact in sugar’s negative publicity–are those who are in the know keeping an arm’s length from sugar? It is not within the scope of this paper to address this issue, but the fact that them more strident the negative publicity, the more popular the product. This reminds one of the rises in popularity of certain presidential candidates in this day and age.



     A Social History of the Nation’s Favourite Drink. (2015). Retrieved from

Kawash, S. (2013). Candy: a Century of Panic and Pleasure. []. Retrieved from Google Books

Levinovitz, A. (2015). No, Sugar is not the New Heroin. Retrieved from

Null, G. (2014). Sugar: Killing us Sweetly. Staggering Health Consequences of Sugar on Health of Americans. Retrieved from

Several Examples of Reactance Research. (1977). Retrieved from

The Taste for Sugar. (2000). Retrieved from







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