Make it cool – media and marketing are essential tools for social change

A prevention effort is only as good as its ability to attract people’s participation. The most successful programs use marketing strategies and gain attention in media, including social media. We were introduced more broadly to the concept of “social marketing”—using marketing strategies to influence social behaviors, rather than consumer behaviors. And people expressed the need for marketing at many levels. Several argued that produce should be better advertised in grocery stores. Prof. Philip Home of Newcastle University, UK, argued that some of the greatest inroads can be made through cultural avenues like celebrity chefs and women’s magazines. Dr. Marrero said that regulation alone is useless in the absence of accepting social change. He said, “I think you have to attack beliefs. I think you have to attack the cultural acceptance of certain things.”

Social media is an increasingly important tool for reaching and engaging people as well— its importance was voiced numerous times in our research and conversations. Dr. Deborah Greenwood, President of Deborah Greenwood Consulting and 2015 President of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), argued that the ability to engage patient populations with social media should be “a requirement of the job,” especially in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, where stigma can be such a profound barrier to engagement.

Overall, we heard that it is important to leverage all forms media to build positive attention. Some of the most effective programs are able to do their marketing largely for free, simply by knowing how to raise excitement in a way that brings media coverage. Media coverage is particularly important in influencing the perception of any intervention: Is the effort on your side? Is it trying to support you or control you? One of the most informative examples comes from tobacco, where the key to reducing the prevalence of smoking was ultimately creating a social perception of the tobacco industry as the “bad guy” and cessation efforts as people’s ally.