As a growing number of employers implement wellness programs and other population health initiatives, their main challenge continues to be participant engagement.
How do we get more people to be more interested in taking positive steps to improve their health – and follow through by actually changing their behavior?
The popular solution today is some form of incentive: Pay people to do what’s right – or penalize them if they don’t. This is not likely to produce long-term, sustainable results, as it mainly emphasizes a Pavlovian-type response: it uses rational carrots to entice rational responses.
Some wonder whether a look into the science of advertising might offer some good clues to the mysteries of engagement.
Vance Packard’s 1957 classic The Hidden Persuaders provides a fascinating look at the Mad Men of the 50’s and their mindsets and methods.
The major agencies of the day were deeply involved with various approaches to research to help them understand the dynamics of persuasion and purchase behavior in relevant consumer categories.
As Packard notes in his opening, “This book is about…the large-scale efforts being made…to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions, and our thought processes by the use of insights gleaned from psychiatry and the social sciences…these efforts take place beneath our level of awareness, so that the appeals which move us are often, in a sense, “hidden.” The result is that many of us are being influenced and manipulated, far more than we realize, in the patterns of our everyday lives.”
In that era, all the major ad agencies employed behavioral psychologists to help uncover the secrets of persuasion – and they regularly conducted “Motivational Research” to better understand consumer choice and buying habits.
Motivational Research employed techniques designed to reach the unconscious or subconscious mind because preferences generally determined by factors of which the individual is not conscious:
“Ad men in their zeal for their new-dimensional perspective began talk about the different levels of human consciousness. As they saw it, there were three main levels of interest to them.
“The first level is the conscious, rational level, where people know what is going on and are able to tell why.
“The second and lower level is called, variously, preconscious and subconscious but involves that area where a person may know in a vague way what is going on within his own feelings, sensations, and attitudes but would not be willing to tell why. This is the level of prejudices, assumptions, fears, emotional promptings and so on.
“Finally the third level is where we are not only aware of our true attitudes and feelings but would not discuss them if we could. Exploring our attitudes at these second and third levels became known as the new science of motivational analysis.”
These and other fascinating insights about the heyday of advertising provide stimulating ideas about the possibilities of doing more and doing better with consumer engagement and health improvement.
Today, our industry market research is generally limited to broad surveys and consumer segmentation work, but imagine if we really dug into the science of persuasion around health improvement.
Why don’t think about marketing wellness or health improvement as if it were a brand of soup or salted snacks…? We can and should do that, as it would provide a richer set of insights to use in program design and delivery.
An interesting “twist” on this story is that advertising has actually created the “environment” or culture that we are trying to change, through their use of “consumption engineers” that have helped encourage many of the “bad habits” that we now attempt to alter.
Our real goal in this industry is to encourage health behavior change. Effective engagement is often the missing element. People follow the path of least resistance and this is difficult to shift.
Smart learnings from consumer advertising can help open up new and better thinking about persuasion.
Maybe we need our own troops of “Mad Men” to help move populations in the right direction…