Research Output
An analysis of nudging as a social marketing technique using Front of Pack nutrition labels: A study of women's perceptions of food labels
  Recently, social marketers have adopted the use of ‘nudging’ as a technique to influence behaviour through subtle tweaks to the environment (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Front of Pack (FoP) nutrition labels are an example of a nudge in practice, designed to steer consumers towards healthier food choices. Yet the use of nudging is somewhat controversial, and calls have been made for its practice to be critiqued (Chriss, 2015, 2016; Gigerenzer, 2015; Hastings & Domegan, 2017; Mullane & Sheffrin, 2012; Roberto & Kawachi, 2014). This thesis analyses nudging as a social marketing technique by investigating the perceptions of Scottish female consumers, in terms of how they regard, understand and interpret FoP food labels in real-world contexts. Prior research generally examines perceptions of FoP labels in labs and out of context (Becker et al., 2016; Cecchini & Warin, 2016; Grunert, 2016; Hieke & Harris, 2016). Therefore, this study applied an ethnographic methodology, specifically, observations, ‘think-aloud’ techniques, and semi-structured interviews. Observations were primarily used to assess what role the context plays in perceptions of FoP labels. Think aloud techniques provided rich insight into the lived experiences of consumers, including what sorts of information was of value to them and what was of less importance. And semi-structured interviews enabled consumers to talk freely about their subjective interpretations and general feelings towards FoP labels. Thematic analysis was then used to code and analyse all three data sets.

In building a picture of how this nudge is perceived, the author was then able to assess if it operates effectively and draw insight for social marketers. Significant contributions to knowledge are presented as it was identified that consumers find these labels impractical and irrelevant, and there is widespread confusion as to their intended meaning. Unlike previous literature, this thesis considered the context and its role in shaping these perceptions. The implications of these findings were then applied to the field of social marketing and nudging. As a nudge, these labels have limited impact within the obesogenic environment in which they sit. More importantly, this thesis identifies several concerns involved with the use of nudging as a behaviour change technique. It highlights the contradictions between the goals of social marketers and the implications of nudging. As a result, this thesis contributes both practically and theoretically to the field of nutrition labelling, and to the discipline of social marketing.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    05 July 2019

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    HF54.5 Business Information Services

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    659 Advertising & public relations

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Soraghan, C. An analysis of nudging as a social marketing technique using Front of Pack nutrition labels: A study of women's perceptions of food labels. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



Front of Pack food labels, Social Marketing, Nudge Theory, Ethnography

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