Monday, August 30, 2010

"Health Fashion" Police

It is the day after the Emmy Awards, so most of us have fashion on the brain and are eagerly awaiting E! Fashion Police. As a result, I thought it was very timely to discuss "Health Fashion". The idea came to me this weekend in two ways. First, as I saw new fashion merchandise (modeled by celebs like Jordin Sparks and The Jonas Brothers) in the form of "TXTING KILLS" thumb bands to reduce texting while driving. Next, I read a fabulous new article in the September 2010 issue of Health Promotion Practice called, "Undressing Health Fashion: An Examination of Health-Cause Clothing and Accessories".

The article provides a great overview of the history of health fashion, including its beginnings in 1953 with the first Medic Alert bracelet. It then proceeds to discuss the use of colorful ribbons to support causes (e.g., AIDS, deployed troops, etc) over the past 30 years. However, the authors really highlight the Lance Armstrong/Nike release of the yellow Livestrong wristband in 2004 as the event that created an explosion of Health Fashion and Cause Marketing.
Health Fashion is sorted into one of three categories:
1. Wearables: Worn by the consumer (e.g., Nike Livestrong wristband)
2. Usables: Items that are directly consumed or that utilize health fashion symbols in manufacturing/packaging/marketing (e.g., United States Postal Service breast cancer stamps)
3. Displayables: Items that are displayed in homes/offices/cars which use health fashion symbols (e.g., Swarovki pink ribbon holiday ornaments)

The article also does a nice job giving an overview of how this merchandise becomes a hot trend. It introduces the reader to Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations theory and how innovators and early adopters (often well known/respected in the community) can disseminate messages or material throughout their community/society, etc. Many of you may be familiar with this theory after reading Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point".

However, the key question on this blog (and happily in the article as well) is: "Are these initiatives effective?" In order to make that call we have to define what we mean by "effective". The article points out that many campaigns (e.g., Go Red for Women) define their goals as raising awareness. Therefore, if they survey women pre and post campaign and they report an increase in knowledge of facts such as "heart disease is the number one killer of women"...then they can say that the campaign was effective. However, if they had defined their goals in terms of behavior change (e.g., more women will visit their doctor for yearly blood pressure checks), it would be unclear if their goals were achieved.

Another way "success" or "effectiveness" has been defined for health fashion has been focused on the revenue generated by the sale of these items. If the Livestrong wrist bands or Avon's "Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer" lipstick line raise significant funds for their charities, then we can consider them successful....right?

Here are some questions regarding effectiveness raised by the article...with my own two cents (okay- more like five cents) thrown in:
1. Are we achieving saturation point with the marketing of health fashion? Does anyone even know what color wrist band supports what cause?
2. How will increasingly knowledgeable consumers affect the sale of these items? It is much easier to find out what percentage of your donation/purchase is actually going to the charity vs. to the corporation.
3. How have social networking sites like twitter/facebook affected the adoption/dissemination of health fashion and cause marketing? Support for a cause can be almost instant and celebrities can quickly call on their twitter followers, which in some cases number over one million. Are consumers being as thoughtful/careful when it is so easy just to click their support?

What are your questions?

1 comment:

  1. 1.The "early adopters" and innovators seem to get the most attention, then people get used to the ideas and the reaction may be decreased (accommodation).
    2.It is hard to keep track of so many causes. I now concentrate my donations to a few rather than many.
    3.I am not well versed in social networks, and am not likely to follow a celeb endorsement.