The Effect Of Michelle Obama’s Face On Dietary Choices

Obesity is an increasingly prevalent problem in American society, and many government efforts are underway to curtail its potential impact on the waistlines and health of its citizens. One notable push is Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, one of the largest public health initiatives focused on childhood obesity which saw her husband sign a Presidential Memorandum creating the first-ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

While the program itself has had mixed success, the visibility of the first Lady and her association has had an interesting effect, as so strong is the tie between the message and messenger that her presence alone has been proven to have a positive impact on eating habits of children.

Academics at Yale University wanted to test this hypothesis; that children exposed to the image of a figurehead regularly associated with a public health campaign’s message will act as a subconscious reminder and may reinforce the message itself.

Over a three year period randomized controlled trials took place on the eve of Halloween. On one side of a house porch sat a large photo of Michelle Obama to greet Trick or Treating Children. The other side had either a photo of Ann Romney, Hillary Clinton, or no photo at all. The visiting children were then asked whether they would prefer to receive fruit or candy, and the researchers estimate that viewing a photograph of Michelle Obama’s face relative to control conditions caused children to be 19% more likely to choose fruit over candy.

Clearly the delivery of a message can have a strong tie to the person who delivers it. This association appears to be a powerful aid to in reinforcement and positive influence of a behaviour, but this association comes with a setback. Lose that ‘influencer’ on your campaign, and potentially lose some of the impact of your efforts.

As an agency, influencing behaviours is core to what we do and applying Behavioural Economics to marketing communications is a natural progression. If you are interested in understanding more about how we do this get in touch now.

Find out more about the connection between consumers and behavioural economics in our latest report on the top trends driving consumer behaviour. Download it here.

By Greg Copeland

Behavioural Strategist