I have a theory about obesity. Why is it on the rise? Is it because our marketing has improved? Or is it because we have not taken marketing seriously enough?
Marketing is a debate. It is an argument made by an organization in favor of a product or service. People are influenced by marketing. That is undeniable. The rise in obesity has coincided with the popularity of social media. Are people so distracted and seduced by what they are seeing on their phones, that they are unable to resist temptation?
How have people been convinced that the pleasure they get from eating junk food is better than the pleasure they would feel from being physically fit? If we believe that marketing works then why don’t we market back harder? At least that would be a plan of action. Why don’t we offer products that are better, that have nutritional value, and market the absolute hell out of them?
It’s time for the health-conscious industry to start breaking out the big guns. We can wait till people start demanding better options, or we can create them and provide tremendous value to a public with a lot of problems. Obesity is an entirely preventable condition, and it will only take a decision to aggressively market a healthy relationship to food and body size.
One of the problems we have had so far is that some of the people who work in the fitness industry in one way or another have been effective at marketing to people who are already actively trying to get fit, but they have been heavy handed and flat footed when it comes to recruiting people to join their movement. Arnold Schwarzenegger made presidential fitness cool in the early 90s for a minute, but it was ultimately a flop.
Fitness has been on the agenda for the U.S. since the 1950s. According to the official U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website, the council “began in 1956, when President Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. After more than 6 decades, we are now the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, and we strive to engage, educate, and empower all Americans to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition.”
One of the key words that keeps coming up in my research of this topic is lifestyle. As someone who does content marketing, lifestyle photography is a big part of what I think about and practice. Lifestyle marketing is a massive part of how social media marketing works and it only makes sense for people who care about health to promote their message, to market their lifestyle, on those channels. Unfortunately, they are not living up to their own mission statement: to engage, educate, and empower. At best, they are doing some good in the second category, but without channels on all the relevant social media platforms how do they imagine they will create engagement?
We must not continue to fail in the competition for the public’s attention. Brands selling junk food understand the power of marketing and are winning the day. So-called health food is still a niche market. Organic is becoming more and more mainstream, but too slowly. If we truly want to promote healthy lifestyles to prevent disease and to create competitive advantage, then we need to market the lifestyle.
Imagine if the U.S. Department of Health took an aggressive approach and invested heavily in social media and content marketing. Nolan Ryan and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the two famous influencers they have used in the past and they did have an impact. They were influential. Imagine if the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition were able to recruit thousands or hundreds of thousands of influencers to promote their message. What if brands who want to produce health-conscious food products were given loans or grants to develop and market those products?
We are losing the health wars. Michelle Obama started an initiative called “Let’s Move” that had a strong ambition. Their website states that they are “dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.” Their methodology on how to achieve that was not and is not robust enough to even move the needle in the right direction. Indeed, rates of obesity are increasing with no sign of moving in the opposite direction. We can’t imagine that simply providing people with education about fitness is going to motivate them to make the lifestyle changes necessary. Lifestyle marketing is the answer to the lifestyle problem that is linked to obesity. If we want people to eat better and to exercise more, then we need to develop those products and market the lifestyle. It is a contest for the attention of the U.S. public’s attention and the side selling junk food and sedentary entertainment sure are not waiting around to see if people will choose them. They are aggressively marketing a lifestyle based around their products, and it is working.