Why Media Conglomerates Should Be Dusting off Their Medicine Cabinets

Margot Lee
Dec 17, 2019 · 6 min read

In the 1960s, “The Health Food Store” was home to a group of isolated products and welcomed in isolated individuals. Health Food Stores were supported by the counterculture communities at the time in conjunction with the ecology movement (or to put it more bluntly, hippies interested in hippie stuff).

However, the world of wellness today is shifting rapidly, and I predict that the future will look far different than a brick and mortar store. But why was the Health Food industry able sustain itself in the first place, and how will it take shape in the rise of technology and the rapid movement towards online retail?

The wellness industry has always been something which is bolstered by internal motivations guided by advertisements. We’ve been told that to stay hydrated, we must consume electrolytes; to stay in shape, we must stomach protein powders; to rest well, we must sleep beside a water diffuser equipped with essential oils. Where does that leave the millions of people buying into these claims? Semi-annually dusting off our electrolyte drinks, protein powder containers, and diffusers in the back of our medicine cabinets.

More recently, the rise of influencers and endorsers has allowed a group of people with a large platform to create a business out of having a seemingly perfect life. That may consist of their fashion choices, family life, travel itineraries, and in this case, perfect and consistent wellness routines. These influencers have helped to spread the idea that buying into wellness builds your brand. Glamorizing wellness has helped the industry move more mainstream and all encompassing.

What does this mean for the wellness industry today? Sure, people are buying the products because they are intrinsically motivated to “be well”, but there is a shift in perception of these products by allowing one’s usage to reflect on the type of person they are and the type of life they live. Not only are consumers buying into the products, but they’re buying into a lifestyle which may help them to feel better about themselves in a way that wellness never really did. Regardless if the products actually do anything, they act as a placebo for people’s construed self-identity.

According to Brand Minds, the health and wellness industry today is worth $4.2 trillion and makes up for 5.3% of global economic output. Part of the reason for this is the shift from wellness being an essential to a lifestyle. Where before they might have been triggered to think of wellness when they reached for their medicine cabinet, this mindset towards more “healthy and balanced” life choices are now prevalent at every part of their day. The way they may start their day on meditation apps like Headspace (now valued at $250 million), look for a “stress free” work atmosphere, sip on green juices, incorporate workouts into their lunch breaks, eat organic and non-GMO dinners, and end their day with CBD oils to help them wind down. Wellness is no longer taking a back seat in the Health Food Store. It’s around every corner and behind every click.

Businesses are taking notice of the industry expansion and starting to take it in a new direction… towards media. Casper, a mattress store, claims they are committed to sleep research and- oh- just so happen to be selling mattresses. Goop, a wellness online supply store (think supplements, dry brushes, and activewear) is masked as a multimedia blog platform. Kourtney Kardashian recently joined the races with her company, Poosh, another online wellness store branded by celebrity-written blog posts about their sought-after wellness routines (“Natural Ways to Take Charge of Your Metabolism”).

The topic of “Improving Health” is taking media by storm according to the the issue being one of six “Supertrends”. So what does this mean for the wellness industry? Wellness as we know it is more of a preventative measure for health- the majority of the population isn’t shopping on Goop or investing in a Casper mattress to cure their chronic diseases, they are doing so because they believe buying into the wellness industry today will avoid a diagnosis down the road.

James McQuivey, media and technology analyst with companies like Apple and Amazon under his belt, preaches the importance of anthropology when considering a company’s growth models, “We are animals. What have we evolved to want, express, do, and react to? And how will technology suppress or gratify these needs?” As much as a venture capitalist in San Francisco would like to argue that data is a basic human need, it’s not. Health (and therefore, wellness), on the other hand, is.

Media has the opportunity to own the wellness industry by embracing external motivations and shifting wellness even more to a lifestyle category. Google had already started to take the lead in this category when they acquired Fitbit, a fitness tracking watch, in early November of this year for $2.1 billion. Not only will this give them access to incredibly valuable data about how and when people are active, but are taking the (undeniably well calculated) risk that wellness will be wearable and even more omnipresent than it ever has been.

Other media companies should take notice of this significant Fitbit acquisition for a few reasons. Why? It is taking wellness to a completely digital space. Sure, the Fitbit is a material item, but nothing is stopping Google from marketing it as a gateway to better impalpable wellness achievements. A traditionally tangible category, the drive behind certain products or routines will shift to a data-driven motivation. Google could have the opportunity to share how higher activity leads to better mental clarity via Fitbit activity and Google searches. Headspace could have the ability to correlate increased meditation practice with reaching more personal goals.

Startups and established companies may start to consider how they can use these human drivers and provide “deep knowledge of consumers” by means of their products. Consumers want to be cared for, considered, and protected. By marketing wellness as a data driven industry, this will scare customers away.

The wellness industry grew 12.8% between 2015 to 2017, and I believe its continuing growth will be exponential. Just as many industries are shifting from traditional models to media companies, I predict the wellness category will follow suit, and on an even larger scale, traditional media companies (think Viacom, NBC Universal, Disney, Netflix etc.) could take their consumers’ wellness into their own hands. By using data to reach the consumers at the exact right time and place and investing in wellness companies and products to create a media-driven regimen, this would shift the industry even further into everyday life choices.

You can think of this potential trend as curation on an even bigger scale than we think of it today. Although widely accepted, the wellness industry can still be a challenge to navigate- there are endless supplements, wearables, products, and services which may intimidate the consumer to fully buying in and “making the lifestyle switch”. Media platforms have the opportunity to alleviate this confusion.

This trend would require media conglomerates to buy into the wellness industry by acquiring or creating partnerships with pre-existing and trusted companies such as Peloton, Mirror, Supergoop, SoulCycle… The media company would use its data to deliver individualized routines and curated product packages for their consumers. By delivering information and thoughtfully curated regimens, media conglomerates have the opportunity to drive a traditionally intrinsically motivated and unsteady industry to a more controlled and predictable market.

Ethically, there is the argument that taking consumer wellness into more corporate hands and capitalizing on people’s health on such a large and encompassing scale (or lack thereof) is a step too far. After all, health is incredibly personal and individualized. First of all, it is important to separate wellness from healthcare. There is an opportunity for media to become involved with the wellbeing of their consumers without getting involved with health history or medical transcripts.

The counterargument would be that by using data and personalized information to curate information for each person’s needs, the wellness industry would become more effective and individualized than ever before. Another way to navigate this concern is by using an “opt in” model- the consumer will have a choice to lean into wellness curation by means of products they are already using (TV, internet services, online search, digital streaming…).

The wellness industry continues to be on the rise, and there are plenty of viable paths it will take to grow. Make way in medicine cabinet, there’s an industry squeezing in.

Margot Lee

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Hi! I’m a student at Syracuse University interested in all things wellness, fashion, beauty, and tech.