The Paleo Diet: Lessons for Marketing Anything!

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paleo dietChances are fairly high that you may have heard of the Paleo Diet. It is a new craze among the health-conscious. I, myself, am not so health-conscious and have heard of it – so I assume that a lot of other people have as well.

When something takes off like this I get intrigued – strictly from a marketing standpoint. How did it happen? What makes this concept stand out from all the rest?

I decided to look into it a bit more and break it down. And I’ve concluded that a concept is very easy to sell, even if there are logical fallacies, if it has a few ingredients.

Note: I must warn you, if you are a follower of the Paleo Diet you may not like some of what I have to say. I’m not a huge fan of “diets.” But the marketing takeaways are pretty great :)

Here they are:

1. An Existing Audience (with a problem)

I probably don’t have to explain how huge the health, weight loss and dieting market is. It’s enormous – especially in the U.S. which happens to be fairly overweight as a nation.

The good news for marketers in this industry is that we are a society of consumers – always willing to buy (especially if we have a problem we need to solve).

The Paleo Diet addresses people with an issue, and promises our 2nd ingredient…

2. A Solution

Here is where the Paleo Diet has seen a lot of success in my opinion.

The Paleo Diet doesn’t just offer a solution to one problem. It appeals to a pretty large scope of people…

Have a weight problem? Follow the Paleo Diet and loose those extra pounds! 

Not overweight but just want to be healthy? The Paleo Diet is designed to work with your genetics so that you can live a long and health life! 

3. Perceived Uniqueness

Let’s be perfectly honest. Paleo Diet followers might get pretty angry with me for saying this (as I’ve seen arguments about this online), but the Paleo Diet is essentially a low-carb diet.

There may be slight variations to what people might traditionally think of as a “low-carb” diet, but not enough to warrant a whole new name.

I know this because I have access to registered dietitians who have told me so. They have reinforced my idea that the whole thing is essentially a marketing ploy.

So, it turns out that to make something unique all you have to do is give it a new and catchy name. (Tweet This)

4. A Theory

Here is the bonus ingredient that can totally change the face of your marketing. You need a theory. And if you can get “experts” in your field to support that theory, you are golden.

In this case, experts can be scientists, dietitians or really anyone in the medical profession. You have a single person’s support, and you can quote them ’til your face turns blue.

In fact, in order to sell you don’t even need a theory that is fully accurate, it just needs to sound accurate (Tweet This).

Let’s take a look at a prime example with the Paleo Diet. The theory is that we should stick to the same diet that our cavemen ancestors had because genetically we are basically the same.

Robb Wolf provides a simple table of what is, and isn’t, allowed in your mouth if you partake in the Paleo Diet. According to his list, vegetables are OK to eat.

But should they be?

According to scientists, the vegetables we have today are nothing like the ones that are cavemen ancestors had to choose from. So should it really be OK to eat them?

And why should we assume that this will make us healthier anyway? People are living longer than ever and most do not follow the Paleo Diet.

And if we are still practically the same as our cavemen ancestors, why aren’t we still living in caves and fighting mountain lions? Perhaps we should stop using modern medicine too. Cavemen didn’t have it. Maybe we’ll all live longer :) .

Emotional Targeting

The conclusion here is that people don’t look for theories to validate something as being accurate or effective. They look for theories that play to their emotional needs.

People need something novel; something new. They want the latest and greatest. They want a solution to the problem.

And psychologically, it’s easy to believe that the problem still exists because the solution hadn’t. But now it does. So people buy.

Now time to go eat some bacon and drink some beer :) .

16 Responses to The Paleo Diet: Lessons for Marketing Anything!
  1. Jeevan Jacob John

    Agree, Eugene.

    We as humans are looking of instant results and we will buy anything that promises instant results – whether it actually works or not isn’t a question that is asked first.

    What is healthy these days? Almost everything has some kind of disadvantage – for fruits like Apple, it is wax and the chemicals used to make it look shinier and even taste better.

    Same thing goes for vegetables and even meat (hormones etc). Nothing is good these days – especially the medicine.

    Of course, there are lot of good products out there, but they are becoming harder to come by.

    I think your analysis, Eugene. Products these days are just about marketing, nothing about actual usefulness and the disadvantages tied to using them.

    • Eugene

      The problem with studies that show certain results is you always have to look at who funded them. Everything is bad for you, then the next day a new study comes out and says its good.

      I think if you keep a healthy lifestyle of moderation, and do don’t do anything excessive, you’ll be alright. If you’re overweight, maybe you need to do something excessive to balance out the excessive actions that got you there…not sure.

      All I know is that humans are living longer than ever. Food production processes and modern medicine have made that possible. We aren’t cavemen any more.

  2. Rick

    In addition to the Paleo diet craze you may want to look into the Crossfit craze as the two are catching on with one another. Oh Google has verified the Paleo craze. Take a look at these search stats for Paleo:

    http://www.google.com/trends/?q=paleo+diet,+weightwatchers&ctab=0&geo=us&geor=all&date=all&sort=0

    • Eugene

      Yep, it’s pretty crazy to see the results. I looked at the cross-fit trend a while ago. Definitely very similar.

  3. James M

    You’re forgetting about one of the biggest reasons why the paleo diet has spread like wild fire: it works, which leads to testimonials of people losing huge amounts of weight, turning around their health, and so forth. Without the success stories, I don’t think it spreads at all. Weight Watchers has been around for 50 years, still works for some women, which is why it’s still around. It’s not cool to be on weight watchers, but it is cool to lose weight and feel better.

    I wouldn’t say the paleo diet is low carb either. You’re replacing the “bad” carbs (bread, rice, processed foods) with the good ones (vegetables). People still eat the starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes mainly) to get close to a high level of carbs, but without eating sugar and processed foods, it never becomes really high.

    Go to marksdailyapple.com and look at the success stories and how varied they are, but also look at how Mark Sisson has built a successful blog and company (books, products, conventions) from his beliefs.

    • Eugene

      I can’t argue with you there. Testimonials are a biggie. And I have no doubt that it works. Many diets do. I have my own theory – when you change your normal diet and cut out something you eat regularly, your body will adjust. Maybe I’ll have a study done about my theory :) .

      I think that exercise and moderation is really the key. Not necessarily completely cutting something out or replacing it with something else. The vegetables and fruits of today aren’t the vegetables and fruits of the Paleo era.

      Low carb diet is such a general term that you can fit a lot of different diets under the umbrella.

      But would you agree that the name and the concept of this particular diet has a lot to do with its success?

  4. Paleo Suz

    Eugene, I challenge you to try Paleo for 30 days – and then share your progress and thoughts!

    Whilst a lot of people do a low-carb version, many others follow a relatively high-carb Paleo diet especially athletes.

    If you want any help with your 30 day Paleo experiment, I’d be happy to help!

    • Eugene

      Fortunately I’m not at a point where I need to diet. What I do need to do is force myself to start exercising :) .

    • Eugene

      And just to clarify. I don’t mean to imply that the Paleo Diet doesn’t work. There are a lot of diets that work. I’m talking about the marketing aspect of this particular one.

  5. Gerry Job Hunting Guide

    I must say that the paleo diet is not a fad (I thought so at first too) but after trying it for 3 weeks, i noticed substantial weightloss and more energy even after the first week.

    And you get to eat tonnes of meat. What could be better?! Yummy!!!!!

    Gerry

    • Eugene

      Can’t argue with you about the meat thing. I may be on a Paleo diet without even knowing it :) .

      But what do you say to people that tell you meat is not healthy because of the hormones that come with it?

  6. Ameena Falchetto

    I loved this – I am on Paleo as a lifestyle choice but I do agree that many have jumped on this as the latest craze because they need to!

    Essentially the Paleo diet is bad for business! Why? Because processed foods are off the list – it’s all about simple clean food – so how to companies make cash out of this? By creating a whole industry around it; coaching, books, fitness programs etc … I’ve even see some companies manufacturing “paleo pasta” and cookies which essentially contradicts the essence of the diet but who cares? It’s all about where you can make some cash … and yes, give it a cool name and it suddenly it gets everyone’s attention …!

    • Eugene

      I think the name and the concept of “going back to our roots” had a huge part in its success. Brilliant marketing.

      And I put absolutely no faith in scientific studies of any kind. It all started with Bernays and his marketing of a good hearty breakfast. Now all you need to do is pay some scientists to do a study for you. That’s why we get contradictory studies every other day. It’s all about who has the fattest wallet.

      I’ll admit that the concept of the Paleo diet sounds appealing to me. But I can easily pull up countless studies showing that eating meat is bad – although I won’t do that because I’m as close to a carnivore as you’re ever going to get :) .

  7. Robert Dempsey

    Marketing gimmicks aside, anything that tells me I can eat a ton of meat is, in my book, an automatic winner.

    Yay meat!

    • Eugene

      Haha, I can’t disagree with you. I loves me some meat. But my Dietitian girlfriend tells me the amount of it that I eat is probably bad for me. Hmm…

  8. Donnie Bryant

    You’ve hit a couple nails on their heads here, Eugene.

    Perhaps the most (apparently) unique aspect of the Paleo Diet generates the strongest emotional response: the idea that the dieter is “getting back to the way things were meant to be.”

    In almost any area, we have a tendency to believe something important has been lost in the hustle-bustle, shiny object-obsessed times we live in.

    There’s something strangely attractive about anything “ancient.”

    One other thing. You said “You need a theory…you don’t even need a theory that is fully accurate, it just needs to SOUND accurate.” There’s a reason for that.

    The more believable a theory or statement is, the more likely we are to believe it’s true. It’s one of those cognitive biases known as “belief bias.”

    Great article!

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