If you say Don’t eat fatty foods, they’ll probably eat more fatty foods than if you kept quiet.
Why? There are many reasons. If I had to identify one to close-in on, I’d say: Guilt.
Guilt. It’s a very interesting emotion. What does guilt do? Well, it makes you feel bad – for doing something you shouldn’t have done. It’s an important social emotion because it helps to ensure that people behave according to society’s rules.
Here’s where guilt gets fascinating: quite often, people continually do the things that make them feel guilty because doing them makes them feel guilty.
And that feeling of guilt enables and gives them permission to partake in the object of their guilt.
If, for instance, you eat fatty high-sodium processed foods when you’re stressed or depressed, you need that sense of guilt. Why? Because the guilt creates the emotional condition which creates the urge to seek the relief that those Doritos provide.
Our Public Health alert system needs a complete re-look.
Rather than focusing on the messages, Public Health needs to focus on human psychology.
Think about it: for decades now, we’ve been bombarded by the same basic messages: Diet! Exercise! Eat your veggies! Don’t eat fatty foods! Don’t pig out! Lose weight!
And in those decades we have seen Obesity, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and a whole host of psychiatric and other disorders skyrocket.
I’m not at all saying that our public health messages caused these epidemics.
But I am saying that they may have created – or at least aggravated – a culture of guilt. In so doing, a positive feedback loop of guilt-driven behavior may have been energized.
Doctors and nurses and research scientists and public health experts have invested millions of hours and billions of dollars in almost vainly trying to reverse the unhealthy trends of the last thirty years.
Maybe we need to step back and ask ourselves if there’s a more economic – and simpler – approach.
Maybe we need to enframe these problems as Marketing problems.
I don’t mean the kind of marketing that’s droll and passionless and produced in a factory on Madison Avenue.
I mean: the kind of marketing run by smart, well-educated, creative people committed to understanding the human condition and making it better. But wait: doesn’t that already exist? Yes, it does – sort of. We just need to nudge them and say: “Hey, dope: you can make a lot more money if you pay more attention to X versus Y.”
I actually do think that this is a Marketing problem. It stands to reason, then, that our public health problems are Marketing problems.
Way too often marketers are deeply entrenched in the mechanics of messages and only superficially engaged in the organics of human feelings. Marketers need to flip that mix around.
The greatest promise of Social Media isn’t in data or research or messages.
No, the greatest promise of Social Media for marketers is feeling.
X = Messages. Y = Feeling. X * Y = Healthy Behavior (where Y >> X).
A feeling motivates far more strongly than a message. If you meld the two together, you boost the power of motivation.
Feeling precedes language. So when trying to figure out how to market healthy behaviors, spend more effort on figuring out the feeling part of the equation (Y). Then solve for X.
If you create psychological and cultural spaces where people can do the things they enjoy doing, you increase the likelihood that they’ll pay less attention to guilt. Then they will be more receptive to self-insight so that they can live with a sense of balance.
People don’t usually exercise or lose weight because those things are the rational and “healthy” things to do.
They decide to do these things when they feel that it makes them feel better – not because someone else tells them so.
If you tell people to feel bad about what they do, they will. And they’ll keep doing what you told them not to do.
Tell them, instead, to enjoy life. Stop making it so complicated!
Oh, and don’t treat yourself to a silky, sweet, succulent chocolate eclair.