Cool or Uncool? Using Associative Groups to Promote Healthy Eating to Young Consumers: An Abstract
Social marketing campaigns focusing on positively influencing health-related behaviors face challenges relating to conflicts between short-run costs/benefits and long-run costs/benefits.
This research seeks to address this challenge by examining one strategy that in the short run might allow benefits to outweigh the cost for healthy eating behaviors, based on the notion that social influences tend to a have strong impact on behavior, especially for a younger audience (Cialdini, 2006). The study focused on promoting healthy eating among youth through the social influence of celebrities’ appeal to a reference group, expecting that in the short run, the benefit of aligning with an associative group or distancing one’s self from a dissociative group may outweigh any perceived disadvantages to eating healthy. Through focus groups with high school students, we identified two young popular celebrities who, based on Internet searches, were confirmed to indeed try to eat healthy and exercise: Channing Tatum and Katy Perry. For comparison to older celebrities, we selected Ted Danson and Meg Ryan as ones known for their healthy diet. Subsequently we designed four different versions of small signs, each with the picture of one of the four aforementioned celebrities along with a message stating: “Did you know? [Name of celebrity] eats several servings of fruits and vegetables daily.” Data were collected from five high schools in the same district of a metropolitan area in the West Coast. First we collected data on purchase of fruits and vegetables during lunch on days without any signs to serve as a benchmark. Then, we collected data again on days when the same menu was available. This ensured that the same fruits, vegetables, and competing options (other food items) were available for purchase on the days without the manipulation and the days with the manipulation. The number of fruits and vegetables purchased was assessed by the staff working in the cafeteria of each school in the field study. A key finding was that the use of endorsers who were perceived as uncool actually decreased the effectiveness of the message. This can have important implications for promotional efforts that aim at encouraging healthy behaviors among young students. Using older spokespeople, independent of credentials and credibility, may actually have a worse effect than not trying a promotion at all.