Marketing self care

Marketing self care McGill University

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McGill Reporter
April 19, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 15
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Marketing self care

Photo Professor Laurette Dubé
PHOTO: Owen Egan

What do you get when you mix a nutritionist and a marketer? Professor Laurette Dubé, dedicated and determined health care marketer.

For marketing is not all fancy soaps and fashionable footwear. It is also the delicate art of appealing to human nature, whether the aim is to sell this month's new perfume or encourage people to wear sunscreen.

Dubé dispels any preconceptions one might hold of the average marketer. "I'm not a high-tech advertisement guru!" she says with a laugh. Instead, this professor of marketing works primarily on emotions, "studying aspects of the person's subjective experience." Her work includes research on retail atmospherics, or the effect of environment on a consumer. What, for instance, might the customer's response be to ambient music or having to wait?

While Dubé, a former nutritionist, has studied such service industries as hotels and those temples of anticipation, banks and airlines, her main interest is to use marketing to promote health and well-being. Inspired to do her MBA, and then PhD, after a stint of management in a hospital, which included overseeing personnel and quality control of food, Dubé saw the lengths to which marketers go to convince people to buy, for instance, a brand of soap. At the same time, she was struck by the inadequate tools of health care professionals wanting people to change their lifestyle solely by providing them with information. "We are asking people to change their lives by simply preaching," she says emphatically.

Think of the last sunscreen ad you saw. Bet it wasn't that funny. Well, Dubé has researched the impact of humour in threat-based situations. The threat alone of skin cancer or sexually transmitted diseases may convince some people to cover up in more ways than one, but others just don't heed the usual lectures. When it comes to health propaganda, says Dubé, "it's either giving you fact-based information or trying to scare you. There are studies showing that fear is a tricky one, because beyond a certain level we don't process information." In other words, subjective emotions can interfere with the objective message of promoting healthy lifestyles.

Different advertisements work on different consumers. One characteristic studied by Dubé's team was masculinity. They found that "people who are high in masculinity (which is powerful, dominant, assertive) ... when they are faced with a threat they just don't want to think about it!" These are the same men and women who, it was discovered, "would be more receptive to a humorous advertisement than to a neutral [one].... This effect is not cognition-driven. It's really the gut feeling that people have." Funnier ads could lead to a healthier populace -- not that we'll find out soon, says Dubé, for advertising companies have yet to practise tickling the funny bone of would-be sunscreen slatherers.

Practising prevention, such as coating oneself in sunscreen, is one matter, but for many diseases, patients are called upon to change and adapt their behaviour, not to cure, but to cope with a health problem. Take Parkinson's disease; Dubé has been working in the context of nutritional counselling for patients afflicted with the neurological disorder. Studies show that "as you get older, the emotional component of life becomes a very powerful drive of your behaviour." These emotions must be addressed if information is to be adopted successfully. Dubé's team is looking at two conditions: the first, in which counselling is given in the traditional neutral, strictly information-based manner; and the second, in which people are also asked how they feel about the disease. Then the information is adapted accordingly.

"The quality of care depends on what you can get people to do, it's not just a matter of a pill or surgery any more. You do need to integrate better those more human aspects of care."

Dubé explains: "You may start preaching the right way, up front, [telling them to] stick to it, and so on, and people will give up. Or, you can start by understanding that if people are stressed to death and just cannot [make the change], we'll give less [advice] and kind of help them to deal a little bit with their emotion."

The bottom line for Dubé is "making providers [of information], whether in advertising or whatever, more aware of the emotional aspects of people," so that the message is more effective. Forget Nike. That's easy marketing. The real victory lies in the market of helping people to help themselves.

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