What will make men eat more healthy?

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I met Jeff a few years back in his hometown of Carson City, a suburb just south of Los Angeles. A big fellow, whose wife wanted him to eat healthier. So Jeff gave up on soda and changed his breakfast staple from Cookie Crisp to Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. He certainly didn’t care too much about health, or as Jeff put it “there is something odd about skinny men.”

I met Jeff during my work for a global beverage company. I identified unmet needs for health related beverage products with American consumers. On the surface, Jeff didn’t leave much hope for finding any needs for healthy products. Until we passed a Jamba Juice on the way back from Thanksgiving-shopping at Costco. Jeff loves Jamba Juice and with the jumbo-sized juice in hand, he began to talk with great enthusiasm about how “it fills me with power and gives me energy.” Jeff thought the jumbo-sized juice revitalized him, just not in the traditional, scientific way.

Jeff is not alone. Men in Denmark eat less healthy then women and are also less concerned with eating healthy. The question is what to do about it. One strategy employed in the Nordic countries is to label products with a “healthier choice” sticker, know as the Nøglehulsmærket (translated: the keyhole symbol. Seen below). This is done in an effort to make people aware of the healthiest products.

But this hasn’t worked. So perhaps, it’s time to look at the problem from a different angle.

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How a brand can guide

Used in Denmark since 2009 and enforced by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, Nøglehulsmærket makes the consumer’s health conscious choice simpler. It does the job of simplifying the nutritional label for the consumer, so that they don’t have to. But so far, it hasn’t worked with men. A 2014 survey showed that while 92 percent of men know of Nøglehulsmærket, only 32 percent will eventually buy products with the little green sticker on it. And it should be noted that these numbers include the group who answered that they only buy the products ‘to a certain degree’. It seems the problem is not that “a healthier choice” is too difficult. Rather, it’s simply not attractive. The problem is that men don’t necessarily want the healthy choice that Nøglehulsmærket offers: only 28 percent of men, as opposed to 45 percent of women, say that they often strive to eat healthy.

By making a healthy choice attractive and simple, we can help consumers choose according to their needs. One of the ways that this can be achieved, is by focusing on the target audience’s world, instead of the sender’s world. This entails looking at the needs of the target consumer – men. Then, focus should be on men’s needs – and not the needs of those, who want men to eat healthy – because while we might think men like Jeff need to eat healthier, we don’t recognize the needs of Jeff.

The needs of the consumer

In the world of consumer needs, there is a distinction between articulated needs and unarticulated needs. The problem with simple articulated needs is that they often are shallow and misleading, case in point: A 2013 study, where researchers went to a McDonald’s and asked people, if they would like wholemeal burger buns on the menu. The DTU researchers were astounded that 61% of the customers answered yes to wholemeal burger buns. The articulated need for a healthier, wholemeal product was prominent. But when customers were presented with the actual choice of buying a wholemeal burger, only 5% chose to do so, and when directly prompted by the cashier, 15% chose the wholemeal option.

On the other hand, unarticulated needs can be a gateway to creating emotional relationships. One way of creating this personal depth is through a physical representation of the brand and making an attractive brand universe. An attractive brand universe is made up of its history, value, yield, comprehension and identification. In contrast, Nøglehulsmærket’s universe is technical and doesn’t have the depth of other FMCG brands. Ask people about how organic products are different than other products and they’ll tell you stories about happy sun-loving cows, carrots that taste better and meatier meat.

The key to changing the behavior of the Jeffs of the world is not to focus on something they don’t care about, but to help them do what they want. We need to understand their world and understand their understanding of why they do as they do. In my experience that is what the social sciences at attuned to do, gaining a deep understanding of the everyday life of people like Jeff.

Jeff might not care about healthy food, but he does care about wellbeing, about energy, about meals, and about a hundred other things that has to do with the traditional view of healthy eating. But asking him directly about healthy food and he’ll tell you “there is something odd about skinny men.”

Nøglehulsmærket must focus on men’s unarticulated needs to make health attractive to men. Thus, Nøglehulsmærket will become a brand that provides value for men, when they coose food.

Mænd spiser mere usundt end kvinder – men hvorfor? Nøglehulsmærket prøver at informere om det sunde valg, men det virker ikke. Til trods for at 92% kender til fordelene forbundet med Nøglehulsmærket, så er det kun 32%, der køber produktet, og her tælles dem med, der kun køber produktet i ”nogen grad”. Derfor er man nødt til at se på problemet med friske øjne og undersøge hvad mænd faktisk har behov for. Hvis man fokuserer på kundens behov og ikke producentens, kan man sælge til behovet.

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