Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 2)

In Part 1, I noted that in public health we often do something that I’ve been guilty of doing too:

  • We tell people not to do things they want to do.
  • We tell people to do things they don’t want to do.

And then we expect people to “do the right thing” or “make the right choice” “for their own good.”  Then we’re surprised when things don’t change. Or we rely on satisfaction evaluation surveys — that people answered very nicely — to try to show that we made a difference.

Well, what if someone tried to sell something to you that:

  • May increase your appetite even though you want it to help you lose weight
  • Has zero nutritional value
  • May leech calcium from your bones
  • Has acidity level that can attack your teeth

Would you want to consume that? Millions of people do every day. And they pay for the privilege of doing this. In diet sodas (or pop, cola). More about drinks marketed as “healthy.”

Now set aside for a moment the fact that this could be bad for you, while in public health we try to sell the good for you. The point is, marketers are turning something that we wouldn’t want to buy and drink — when you think about what you are really drinking — into something that millions of people do want to buy and drink.

They don’t sell what the product actually is. They sell how it can make you feel. And, furthermore, they tell you what you will feel. And they choose feelings that people may want to feel: full of energy, fun, cool, fashionable, attractive, at the top of their game:

See lots of people having good times, living good lives in a lot of ways. And while drinking … what?

What they are actually selling, packaged in those cans and bottles, people would not want to buy.

Now, I understand if this example isn’t the most ideal example, because in public health we sell well-being. So how about looking at water? We would be in favor of drinking water, right? Can we imagine any scenario where people would not want cool, refreshing water? And most importantly, life-sustaining water because we cannot live for many days without it?

But what if water cost 10,000 times more than we’re used to paying for it? And most of the time, with no extra health benefit for this extra cost?  What if over 1.5 million barrels of oil were required each year to deliver water to our country? Would we want that cost? For those of us living near the Great Lakes, why import water from the other side of the planet? The well in my yard taps into an aquifer; why do I need water from anywhere else? Plus plastic production and plastic waste from 7 billion gallons each year? Are we OK with that cost?

As you can guess what’s coming, we already do pay 10,000 times more for water. We happily buy bottled water instead of turning on the tap. Why do we do this?

Youth. Purity.

And people are sold on the beauty and allure of water from Fiji. This poster even sells the green angle, when the manufacture and delivery for this industry is far from green.

So what does this mean for public health, and what we want people to “buy”? What can we do? More of this series coming soon …

Related posts:

Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 1)

Melinda Gates wonders about learning from Coca-Cola for social change too


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