Seriously, What is a Calorie?: Using Incentive Appeals and Old-School Techniques to Give Value to the Intangible Nutrition Fact

Fear appeals seldom work in behavior change because, quite frankly, no one knows what it feels like to die. So even when we’re presented with tame fear appeals, like cigarette warning labels that read “may cause lung cancer” or nutrition facts listing high sodium or calorie counts, we shrug it off because we can’t “see” their effects on our weakened lungs or struggling heart (like we could see, say, the results of a broken arm or tattoo). The idea of cigarette tar or a calorie poses no threat to me because I can’t even fathom what it is in its basic form—much less what it may do to my body.

So what if, instead of threatening my life, the appeal threatened my quality of life by actually showing me the threat’s impact on the things that I deem most important? Suddenly, our “out of sight, out of mind” mantra shifts to “I’m still not convinced this thing will kill me in the future, but I understand that it will definitely infringe on my freedom/time/appearance/friends’ approval today!”

Check out the new research from Johns Hopkins University that builds upon this idea:

  • For 6 weeks, researchers posted signs near soda refrigerators in Baltimore stores that told purchasers it would take 50 minutes of running or 5 miles of walking to burn off the 250 calories in the soda they were about to buy.
  • Their report shows a decrease in the number of sodas purchased and an increase in the purchase of smaller sodas (click to see a great infographic of this experiment).
  • The results? Forty percent of those interviewed who noticed the signs said the information changed their decision about what they would buy.
  • Even better? The purchasing effects lasted 6 weeks after the signs were taken down.

But knowledge-increasing and behavior-nudging tools, like the researchers’ posters, are not new, you say. After all, app developers have bottled this idea before and applied it to some of our favorite mobile app downloads, showing us how poor diet decisions will eat away at our daily share of calories and how many Empire State Buildings we have “climbed” when we opt to use the stairs.

Infographic of comparison between calorie information and real-world impact of calories consumed.

The problem? Pulling out a phone and scanning the bar code of a soda to see what impact it will have on my life is an added barrier for those for whom “getting fit” is not top-of-mind and who would buy the drink without thinking twice. For these people, who are literally holding the information-laden nutrition facts in their hands, information is not power. “Calorie” does not mean anything, so its threat falls flat.

For that reason, I really like the researchers’ use, here, of “old-school” techniques (posters, for crying out loud!) to nudge buyers at the point-of-purchase. The purchase power is still in their hands and they still can choose to ignore the sign without taking additional actions, but now “calorie” has more meaning. Nearly everyone buying the soda will see the poster and be reminded how far and time-consuming a 5-mile walk is—finally giving that calorie a face and value. Their soda-purchasing behaviors may not change but, who knows, maybe it will influence their potato-chip intake or TV time or miles walked later. At least now we’ve presented them with information that actually may be relevant to their day-to-day life instead of continuing to list that intangible, not-so-threatening calorie count and expecting it to do all the work.

What do calories “look” like to you? What nudges you to make healthier decisions? Have you seen fear appeals or “old-school” message techniques with positive outcomes?

By Katy Capers


Pinterest, Our Recipe for Success

Create your strategy, steep in common sense, mix in pictures and season to taste.

Pinterest Logo

Assuming you haven’t been living under a digital rock, you’ve probably heard of Pinterest by now.

Pinterest is the highly addictive (trust me when I say this is not hyperbole) new online pin board that is taking the social media world by storm. For the latest stats on Pinterest, check out this cool new infographic from Mashable.

Pinterest allows you to create online boards based on topics of your choosing.  Think of them as your own series of digital vision boards to share with the world.

Since its launch just over two years ago, the platform has become a digital playground particularly for fans of fashion, design, recipes and other visual categories of interest.

While much time is spent discussing the impact of Pinterest on brands and commerce, health organizations can capitalize on the popularity of the platform to drive traffic back to their website, engage in digital storytelling, promote recently launched campaigns, and other cool, related campaigns to watch, promote partner initiatives, inspire volunteerism, motivate staff and more.

To learn more about Pinterest, our in-house band of digital masterminds, affectionately known as the Digitalists, took to the platform to work on our own project, and in the process, come up with a list of tips to get you well on your way to pinning for social impact!

Do your homework. As with all new social media platforms, I recommend you go check it out first.  Be a silent participant; lurking in the background, and engage in a bit of digital people-watching.  Every social platform has its own individual culture, and set of faux-pas’.  Learn them now, so that should your entry doesn’t seem too forced or contrived. Go for organic. Because there’s nothing worse than #thatawkwardmoment when you realize you’re trying to hard…and your audience knows it. *cringes*

Be Relevant.  Social media platforms pop up as quickly as I find excuses for new shoes.  The fact that a new platform is rapidly expanding and threatens to change the world as we know it does not in and of itself mean that it’s a good idea for your brand to find a new home there.  How are YOU going to use it in a way that not only makes sense for your brand, but also adds value for the public and partners?  If there’s no real, organic way to do so, maybe it’s not the platform for you.  Don’t despair.  We can repeat this exercise next week when we have a shiny new batch of social media platforms to consider.

Make sure your content is pinnable.  Got ambassadors for your brand/organization?  Great!  Ambassadors and advocates are a great way to increase chatter about your brand both online and offline.  To take advantage of their devotion, make sure that images on your Web site and pinnable.    For a “Pin It” button for your website and other Pinterest “Goodies,” click here.

Pin often.  While new reports from the link shortening service, Bitly, suggest Saturday morning is the most popular time to Pin images, remember that prime time on any social media network can also equate to times your messages are most likely to be drowned out by competing noise.

Pinning often will also ensure that your followers begin to get a sense of your organization, associate your name/brand with their Pinterest experience, and begin to look forward to your posts. This can be a gift (who doesn’t want more followers) and curse (make sure you have backup should your social media manager take any leave.  Your audience just might notice your absence).

Watch it.  Users can also share videos via Pinterest, though we quickly learned in our exploration of the platform that the least painful best way to do this is either pin videos that are already on YouTube, or create your own videos and then upload to YouTube.  Now’s the perfect time to capture candid interviews and other videos from organizational events, upload it to YouTube, then pin it.

Link it.  Users can currently share pins with Facebook and Twitter.  Pinterest has also been known to produce a significant amount of referral traffic.  Take advantage and drive traffic back to your website by making the images/video on your website pinnable, and give older images an exciting new life.  Keep the content and the referrals coming by updating your website with candids from community and/or partner events and other photo-worthy initiatives.  While you’re at it, give your organic search engine a boost by tagging your boards, image descriptions and “About” section with keywords associated with your brand/organization.

Give credit.  If you aren’t pinning your own content, link back to where the content originated.  Pinterest has come under a lot of fire from photographers, designers and other content creators who felt the very nature of pinning encouraged copyright infringement

In good form, Pinterest balances the needs of users and artists by outlining best practices that protected both parties.  Pinterest users are encouraged to pin from the original source and give credit to the content owner.  Content owners are encouraged to add “pin it” buttons to their site to make it easier to identify content that they don’t mind sharing on Pinterest.

Conversely, content owners who do not want their material shared can add a small piece of Pinterest-provided code to their website that prevents Pinterest users from sharing that site’s content.

More on Pinterest’s copyright policies can be found here.

Enough from us.  Let’s hear from you!  Are you pining to pin?  How are you using Pinterest for your company?  What tips would you give newbies?  Let us know in the comment boxes below, or tweet us at @DanyaIntl

By Alaina Robertson

Health Communications Specialist

Danya International