Using Marketing to “Sell” Prevention and Wellness
Prevention’s Emphasis on the Negative
We prevention specialists spend a lot of time focusing on negatives in our work. For example, we detail the plethora of harmful health effects from using particular drugs and substances. We bemoan the growing prevalence or even epidemic of certain substance use and other addictive behaviors. And we rail about the financial costs resulting from substance use and other risk habits.
Emphasizing the negative aspects of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and drug use certainly has its place, particularly when communicating with funding agencies and other key health stakeholders. However, is there a way we can interject more positivity into our prevention and recovery messages?
Marketing and Positive Images
To answer this question we might wish to look to the marketing field. Do successful companies emphasize negative content when marketing their products and services? Not very often.
In fact, everything from cars and clothing, to food and furniture is marketed as projecting a positive image. Cars are for the sporty, wealthy, or successful, and clothing can make you look more slim, young, or fit. In addition, food can help you feel and look healthy, energetic, or strong, while even furniture is for the chic, modern, or earthy.
Prevention specialists need to take a lesson from multi-million dollar marketing firms and Fortune 500 companies by harnessing the motivating power of positive images in social marketing prevention and health values. But how do you present positive images of non-using and non-abusing substances?
Positive Prevention with Social Marketing
One proven approach is based on the Behavior-Image Model (BIM). BIM suggests we link substance use risk messages to salient images of youth or adults engaged in health enhancing habits like participating in regular physical activity, sports, recreational activities, eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, and practicing stress control.
Practically speaking this means describing how a health promoting behavior like being physically active makes you look more fit, active, and athletic. In addition, we present how a risk behavior such as alcohol use will interfere with being able to exercise regularly and achieve desirable images and lifestyle goals.
By using positive images to vividly illustrate the benefits of engaging in wellness habits and then describing how specific substance use risk habits are counterproductive to achieving those positive behaviors and goals, prevention and recovery specialists achieve two key goals.
First, they are able to frame their prevention messages in positive social marketing terms, much like marketers of conventional products and services. Second, these positive images permit us to address the connections between healthy habits and risky ones. In doing so, we are able to integrate substance use prevention with wellness promotion.
In conclusion, using the ubiquitous marketing approach of highlighting positive images in future social marketing of prevention and recovery will allow us to effectively “sell” prevention and wellness simultaneously in single interventions. Positive image content is so powerful, in fact, that such prevention programs can be as brief as a single motivational session, as has been documented by research and evidence-based interventions like SPORT Prevention Plus Wellness and InShape Prevention Plus Wellness programs.
These integrated prevention AND wellness programs have resulted in improving both substance use and healthy behaviors of youth and adults. It’s time for prevention and recovery specialists to adopt more positive image content in their interventions and communication campaigns to enhance their impact on the broader health and positive development of participating youth and adults.