The facts surrounding diabetes are shocking, but relying on scare tactics to engage those at risk for diabetes or living with the condition rarely translate into meaningful change.
Look up any diabetes information site, and you’ll be met with alarming statistics such as:
- More than 100 million Americans are living with diabetes or prediabetes.
- Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States.
- Approximately 1.6 million people died due to complications from diabetes in 2015.
- In April 2016, The Lancet published a study titled “Trends in diabetes: sounding the alarm,” in which author Etienne G. Krug states that, in 2012, diabetes caused as many deaths as HIV.
- The World Health Organization diabetes fact sheet says that “Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, and lower limb amputation” and predicts that diabetes will be the seventh-leading cause of death by 2030.
- “Marketing to Diabetics” writer Michael Donohoe recommends focusing on diabetes as an “epidemic” and a “death sentence.”
The numbers speak for themselves: diabetes is a rising problem, and the health complications it can cause are severe. Marketers may be tempted to make diabetes awareness campaigns look like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health ads: warnings of impending complications, gruesome descriptions of gangrenous amputations, tales of caution about people who did not manage their blood sugar levels and lost their sight, kidneys, or lives.
It’s an understandable angle—one that has been effective for smoking—but specifically for diabetes awareness, it may not resonate.
Fear Marketing: Short-Term Scares Versus Long-Term Changes
Under some circumstances, fear marketing can work. Dolores Albarracin, senior author of the study “Appealing to Fear: A Meta-Analysis of Fear Appeal Effectiveness and Theories,” explained in an interview with NPR News that fear-based marketing is effective at changing behavior and attitudes toward health and wellness. However, Albarracin went on to say that those campaigns are most effective toward one-time behaviors (e.g., getting a flu shot) as opposed to lifestyle changes (e.g., maintaining a healthy diet).
“Long-term changes to behavior patterns are often produced by changes in skills,” she says, citing smoking as an example. Smokers who continue the behavior, even when they are well aware of the negative consequences, usually do so because they don’t know how to stop.
Relying solely on fear-based marketing is risky–that’s not to say it can’t be done and done well. The facts surrounding diabetes are certainly shocking, and there’s no need to shy away from them entirely. However, unless there’s a clear plan of action presented on how to prevent or manage diabetes, it’s going to do little more than provide a short fright with few or no long-term benefits. Instead, by focusing on informing and educating people with diabetes, market leaders across all categories find ways to inspire change rather than incite fear.
As Diabetes Awareness Month approaches in November, here are three positive steps you can take to market diabetes awareness in your community.
Empower with Information
Communicating diabetes as a manageable condition really drives home the statistic. Donohoe recommends focusing on the fact that many people remain uninformed and uneducated about diabetes until they are already diagnosed. He recommends using the NIH guidelines for health literacy to create clear, simple content that explains what diabetes is, how it can be prevented, and how it can be managed if a person is diagnosed.
Equip with Easy-to-Follow Guidance
Prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes are almost entirely preventable conditions, and all forms of diabetes can be controlled with a healthy diet, physical activity, and regular screenings. The most important thing for people newly diagnosed with any type of diabetes is to understand that they are still in control. The frightening complications don’t come from diabetes, they come from uncontrolled diabetes.
Engage with Ongoing Support
Diabetes is not an unstoppable nor impending doom. It’s a preventable and manageable disease. The stakes are high, but patients aren’t guaranteed to fail. Teach your audience how to prevent and manage diabetes to give them a sense of control, and offer them a sense of hope that, with the right management techniques, they don’t have to become a cautionary tale.
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