Copywriting & Ethics in the Wellness Industry

3rd December 2018 by Amelia Aston | Content, News & Events

Remember those controversial adverts for a supplement company called Protein World that caused a stir a few years back? The ads featured a bikini model against a yellow background with the words ‘Are you beach body ready?’ emblazoned in bold letters behind her slender, yet curvy body. They were all over tube stations and inspired countless acts of vandalism and internet debates. People cited the ads as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘objectifying’ as well as pointing out how the ads preyed on women’s insecurities. 

The problem with this campaign was that it presented only one type of body – white, young and slender, yet muscular – as a ‘beach body’, leaving those of us falling outside these standards confused. Will I be chased away by angry men with torches and pitchforks if I dare expose my untoned midsection on my next holiday?  

On a more serious note, many people were left with some difficult questions about their own bodies after seeing this advert – questions about whether not looking like this model meant that there was something wrong with them. 

The latest DMA Copywriting Club used this ad as the starting point for a discussion focusing on the ethics of copywriting in the health and wellness industries. Influencer, Marketing Manager and Yard alumnae Lauren MacRae started the event with a talk on some of the ways modern copywriting for the health and wellness industries disturbingly mirrors those ridiculously sexist ads from the 1950s. 

Influencer marketing has had an arguably been more detrimental to the health and wellness industry’s communication with potential customers than Protein World’s ill-considered execution.  

Lauren cited examples that included detox teas and appetite suppressing lollipops promoted by Insta-celebs like the Kardashians on a daily basis. These companies have been accused of promoting products that can cause health problems and can easily be misused by those with eating disorders. 

The drug-free birth control company, Natural Cycles, were also used as a particularly interesting example. They promote a contraceptive method that relies on women tracking their menstrual cycles via their app in order to be aware of days they’re not fertile.  

The company has come under fire recently as it was reported that 37 women at a single hospital reported unwanted pregnancies after using the app. Natural Cycles has also been criticised for its use of aspirational social media posting and influencer marketing promotions that have left women feeling they’re being sold a product rather than treated as patients who deserve accurate and scientific information about their contraceptive choices.  

Natural Cycles’ Instagram account publishes the aspirational images we’ve all come to expect on the platform, featuring pretty, Instagram-famous young women dressed in trendy loungewear, sipping on hot drinks while taking their temperature with the company’s thermometer. In effect, the brand’s flagship product is treated more like a lifestyle accessory, such as a dress or a lipstick, than a medical solution. The copy in their captions often implies that the app is ‘healthier’ than the pill and makes claims based on inconclusive medical research that the company has conducted themselves.  

Often, the influencers who work with brands like Natural Cycles are given the task of crafting the copy for their posts themselves, raising further concerns about these influencers’ lack of thorough knowledge of copywriting best practices, the product and the research behind it. 

The second talk of the evening was delivered by health and wellness copywriter Louise Shanahan on how to navigate the complex world of copywriting for this industry without compromising your morals.  

Louise highlighted how health and wellness products address highly personal issues. Therefore, copywriters have to be careful how they communicate about products. Louise provided us with tips on how to distinguish genuinely harmful products from those that might just be a bit silly, and how to avoid co-opting positive messaging and terms such as ‘female empowerment’ to promote products that can actually have harmful effects.  

A key insight from Louise’s talk was how brands use semantics to get away with misleading messaging. While certain terms, such as ‘organic’ are regulated, brands can get around these restrictions by using similar, unregulated terms, such as ‘natural’. That’s why it can be hard for governing bodies, like the ASA, to crack down on potentially misleading ads and challenging for consumers to gauge the effectiveness of the products marketed towards them. This means that it falls on copywriters to self-police and be careful to not create copy that can be misconstrued. 

Despite all this, the takeaway from the event was quite positive overall. As Louise pointed out, good copywriting fits into a marketing mix that should match the right consumer with the right product, providing them with something they actually want or need. Lauren concluded with a call for further discussion on the use of influencer marketing in the health and wellness industries to make sure we’re creating positive and accurate messaging. 

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