When it comes to marketing healthy food, it's all about using the right language
There are so many dietary trends to keep up with–from keto, paleo and raw to superfoods, gluten-free, plant-based and macronutrient dense–that it’s getting more challenging to market foods, even to consumers who say they want healthier fare.
After all, healthy isn’t a clearly defined term. One consumer’s healthy food, say fruit, might be on someone else’s no-no list because of its high sugar content.
“It feels like it’s the complexity and sort of the conflicting information that’s actually creating a new barrier to eating healthy,” CJ Gaffney, Partners & Napier’s director of planning, says on the latest episode of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast.
Gaffney, whose agency recently surveyed more than 1,100 U.S. adults about their eating habits, says food marketers should consider using more conversational terms in their campaigns. “Language is critical,” he says.
Brands that focus their marketing on inspiration, rather than ingredients, tend to be perceived as advocates for health even more than brands that are explicitly talking about products’ ingredients and nutrients, he says. And casual and conversational language can help bring in new consumers.
“Language can actually go a long way in terms of getting people over that hump and being willing to try something that is unfamiliar to them,” he says. Brands can “sneak people into doing things more healthy if you kind of use language that doesn’t sound so scary,” he says.
It’s an approach the agency has been working on with cottage cheese, a food that’s often, as Gaffney puts it, lumped into the dieting category and has been struggling to retain consumers’ interest.
Partners & Napier, which works with the Saputo brand Friendship Dairies, noticed people would even hide that they ate cottage cheese in public. Instead of focusing on its health attributes, the agency has more recently been promoting the cottage cheese’s smoother texture and has been featuring it in social settings as a dip, trying to eliminate that dieting stigma.
Partners & Napier’s "Healthy Eating in America: Insights on Bridging the Head-to-Stomach Gap," includes data from 1,136 U.S. adults, split evenly between women and men. Among the findings: 37 percent said it was very important to maintain a healthy diet and 41 percent said it was somewhat important. But fewer than half of the respondents said they practice healthy eating often or always.
When food marketers are thinking about appealing to specific genders, there are differences to keep in mind. In responses from women, they were four times more likely than men to use the word “less,” as in less salt or less sugar, while men tend to be motivated by adding “more” healthy fats, protein and so on. And when it comes to indulging, women tend to do so in private settings, while “men are more likely to fall victim to peer pressure in social groups and social settings,” Gaffney says.
He admits he found himself doing that recently, having a giant beer and sausage at a baseball game. “I was with a group of people and I wouldn’t dare have ordered a Caesar wrap,” says Gaffney.