Selling Health

Promoting Good Health

We all know “Hump DAAAAY!”.

It’s a cultural icon, a rapidly recognized meme, and part of our vernacular around the office and throughout our social conversations. Why? Because a very clever group of copywriters and producers came up with it and the brand it was created for, Geico, broadcast the commercial repeatedly over time. It stuck.

Imagine if “What’s in your wallet?” was a campaign for um, ahem, safe sex? Or “Because I’m worth it” was a reminder for your yearly physical? If the country is serious about improving the health of the population – we need to think like a marketer.

Yes – I am suggesting that the groups most impacted by the cost of healthcare – apply a “population health” approach to achieving their objectives through marketing. Whether it’s targeted marketing to a specific demographic, or broader, mass marketing to the greater population, it’s time to get the right messages out.

In a country where:

  • nearly a third of the population has diabetes1
  • more than two thirds are considered to be overweight or obese2
  • about 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year3—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths, and
  • 18.7 million adults and 8.9 million children have asthma4

and where we are spending upwards of 2.9 trillion in total national health expenditures5, it’s time to take a new approach! One that we KNOW works.

If advertising and marketing work so well that we need to regulate it, – just ask the likes of the Marlboro Man and the Joe Camel – both removed from mainstream media after controversial backlash around their advertising campaigns. If we need to control what messages are reaching our children, when and where adult beverages can be aired, and restricting cigarette ads, now one of the most highly regulated forms of marketing, (Some or all forms of tobacco advertising are banned in many countries).6 – let’s flip it! Make marketing work for health.

“Can you hear me now?”   I mean – can you really hear me? Do you get the concept? We need to be SELLING health! We’ve caught glimpses of it with product campaigns for milk (it does a body good), eggs (the incredible edible egg); and the Nike anchored motto of the exercise mindset “Just do it.” But these are product pushes where brands or associations promote a healthy concept they are aligning with the product, not a comprehensive push for health, wellness and prevention at a strategic level.

What if the product was health?

Imagine a country where the majority of citizens know the 6 warning signs of a heart attack? We know “two all-beef patties, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, special sauce all on a sesame seed bun,” so we know that it is possible and it works. We roll catch phrases into our daily conversations. They become a part of our culture, our lexicons. If we apply the same mass market principals to population health could we achieve the same results? I think so.

A “No Sweet” (play off of no sweat) campaign with headbands and sweatshirts, promoting unsweetened beverages and healthy alternatives to sugary foods like cereals and other breakfast foods that fall victim to large amounts of added sugar, could work. Or a catchy jingle for heart attack awareness cleverly packaged in an entertaining format and played repeatedly until 90% of all consumers not only recognize the message but can sing the whole thing are just hints at what’s possible.

I recently enjoyed a performance by a 7-year-old boy who recited the entire dialog for “The most interesting man in the world” commercial down to the “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”  to the great delight and pride of his father, and entertainment of all those around.

Marketing works.

Imagine a time when “eat your greens” or “get your flu shot” can be packaged up and go viral, the icons for the message being slapped on T-shirts sold at the mall or bumper stickers for the college set. A time where “health” becomes cool.

Why not? It works for just about everything else. Let’s apply the same resources and creative to impacting one of the biggest challenges facing this nation. It’s rising cost of health. Diabetes, Obesity, Heart Failure, Cancer – come on people – let’s do this! What do we have to lose? Only 2.9 trillion in health care expenditures, 17.4% of our GDP7 , with lost productivity because of missed work due to health problems costing the US 84 billion each year according to a 2013 Gallup-Healthways report.

Did you know that 90% of all cancers are environmentally caused8? That means they are not genetic. In other words, they are PREVENTABLE. When you look at the health stats in this country it’s enough to make you crazy. Oh, and we haven’t even talked about the mental health market. With 14.8 million adults suffering from depression9.

How much can we influence it? A whole lot. Awareness, education, information and motivation are the messages and tools of our health campaigns.

So, what’s in your wallet? I hope it’s taken on a whole new meaning for you.

The possibilities are endless. Let’s continue the discussion – reach me at or @cbcarson on Twitter.

6 Warning Signs of A Heart Attack:  (American Heart Association)

  • Chest Discomfortin the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body – Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • Cold Sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness











2 thoughts on “Selling Health”

  1. I like it. The ethereal attainment of health in one, two, three jingles would be great. But what are the one, two, threes? “Just say no” to sugar? “Gimme all your lovin'” as long as you wear a raincoat? “Happiness is a 5 (vegy’s) a day”? Maybe so says I. But if we’re talking “Get Physical” after your physical (well the data says physicals really don’t contribute meaningfully to improved health metrics). Or if we mean “50 is the new Healthy” (vaccines by the age of 8)…the debate rages on (and perhaps for very good reason when we see the the health status of other industrialized nations that kick our ass in health metrics and who rely on vaccines perhaps not so much). So if “Proton Pump Inhibitors are the new sexy” (as the largest prescribed medicine by total sales, and at the same time recognized as given to 40% of the population with heartburn symptoms that are NOT due to increased stomach acid), then we better be damned careful just exactly “what kind of healthy” we are selling.


    1. @Hammer Throw – Exactly! I am suggesting we don’t allow the only health messages to be in the hands of brands (pharma or otherwise) but for true population health advocates and the funders of care who pay the price for unhealthy communities to play in the same game. It’s time to look at health messages and education from a mass marketing approach. Leverage the same power of branding and marketing that the products do – but make the product healthy lifestyles and prevention, Where “Health” truly is the product. Awareness, education, a focus on lifestyles can go a long way to stemming the escalating chronic disease our country is facing – these approaches can drive change and improved health outcomes. Thanks for your comment.


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