If you’re a marketer trying to talk “healthy”, remember that people have deep-seated beliefs and perceptions around eating and what it takes to eat and ‘be healthy’. It could take years of therapy (and your budget) to change it. So work with your consumer and meet them where they’re at. And please, don’t forget taste appeal!

Consumers read into health messaging more deeply and emotionally than marketers do. It’s not clean cut. There’s a tug of war in their subconscious. Years of the diet industry have wreaked havoc on the average American. People don’t know what’s “good” or “bad” anymore. Is a baked potato considered healthy these days? They’re as mixed up and skeptical as ever.

Marketers, on the other hand, must know what side of the fence their brand/product is on.

Are you the healthier cookie or the yummier yogurt? Are you trying to offer a better, guilt-free treat (heavy on the “health”) or are you selling a more pleasurable ‘healthy food’ (heavy on the “taste”). These are two different consumer mindsets and thus challenges for you to face. Either way, be positive! Nobody wants to summon the latent guilt or negative associations.

In order to do that, we have to acknowledge that there’s a strong inherent tension between Health and Taste. There’s a general consensus that healthy food tastes bad. Let’s explore.

First think about the imagery and feelings conjured up in your mind when I mention the word “taste”. Taste is mostly what makes eating pleasurable. Science shows us that without our sense of taste, many of us lose our appetites and drive to eat altogether. It becomes a chore (I couldn’t imagine that!).

Taste (the ability to recognize flavor) is also what helps us make connections with people – the better the flavor, the better the food and the longer people linger and talk. Taste can invoke memories, define an event/moment, and inspire people to create.

Now lets think about ‘health’. On one side, “health” offers an unlimited list of benefits that span far beyond the moment of eating something delicious. It’s a wise choice, few would disagree. And the old adage, ‘health is wealth’ couldn’t be more true. Especially as people start families and head toward middle age and retirement years, health is a central part of their lives and values.

However even if one fully subscribes to a healthy lifestyle, it’s not always pleasurable. We’re living in a culture that’s surrounded by overabundance and quick fixes. It takes work to be healthy. Conscious shopping, aware consuming, restrictive diets and exercising far more than one would like. Regardless of viewpoints, it’s not the easy path.

For more in-depth reading on the topics above:

Why it’s hard to change unhealthy behavior — and why you should keep trying
Taste Remains Consumers’ Top Preference for New Foods and Beverages
Emotional Eating? 5 Reasons You Can’t Stop