William Bernbach, a famous advertising executive, gave us Mikey and his bowl of Life cereal in the 1970’s. A wildly successful ad campaign, it became a classic. It reportedly ran for 12 years.
In the 30-second spot, Mikey’s older brother’s are skeptical of a cereal that is “supposed to be good for you.” So they push the bowl over to Mikey, to see if he will try it first.
Mikey is an unassuming, freckled, round-faced 3 year old in a red turtleneck. You can barely see his head over the large bowl of cereal placed in front of him.
His brothers watch and wait. Mikey considers the cereal for a moment. Then, undaunted, he digs in and wolfs it down. Turns out, he likes it.
The simplicity of that TV commercial makes sense when you consider a quotation that Bernbach was also famous for. He said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”
The plain truth can sell a lot of things, from cereal to solar energy. Truths that taste good are hard to refute. Truths that shrink a carbon footprint are compelling.
We can harness this simplicity in massage therapy. Truths about massage therapy can help us sell massage therapy.
But What if We Don’t Know What Those Truths Are?
From day one in massage school, I was told that massage elevated blood flow. I also learned that massage boosted endorphins and immunity, lowered cortisol, and eliminated toxins from the body. Much attention has been given to these supposed effects, and most of us were told these things in the classroom, in the literature, or in the sheer volume of massage advertising.
Yet a closer look at the research suggests that we don’t know these effects for sure. Our certain-sounding statements have been based on primitive studies or wishful thinking. In some cases, research contradicts the claims we’ve been making for decades.
Take a Closer Look
Now, years later, it seems time for a roundup of what we know and don’t know about massage therapy. Many of our long-held assumptions and beliefs are getting a closer look. To that end, I’ve put together a free e-book focused on some of the things I learned in school. 5 Myths and Truths about Massage Therapy: Letting Go without Losing Heart is available from the Massage Therapy Foundation. It’s in the lineup of many free resources they provide to massage therapists and the people who love them.
The e-book is one quick click and a download away, right here. I focused it on massage and blood flow, endorphin levels, cortisol levels, immunity. I also address the question of massage and toxin release, a subject of countless discussions on social media.
It Doesn’t Have to Hurt
In the book, I discuss how we really can let go of unfounded claims without losing heart. Our clients rarely ask for lower cortisol or boosted endorphins, so they won’t miss them. Our message is complicated by our stories of massage prodding cells and molecules in certain directions. We’ve tied ourselves into knots, pointing this way and that way at studies that were too small for firm conclusions.
By clinging to some old, unfounded claims, our massage promotions have been missing the mark.
We could take guidance from packaged cereals, where the ingredients and nutrients are listed on the box. We would do well to follow the lead of health care providers, who are bound by ethics to keep to true claims about their treatments. If we want to be part of real health care, we need to state real benefits of massage.
Truth in advertising is an ethical responsibility, but it’s also more effective marketing.
More responsible claims about massage are easier to defend than unsubstantiated beliefs. They earn us better ethics and higher credibility.
We can leave behind massage therapy’s sacred cows without giving up much. Those outdated claims no longer serve us, so there is no need to cling to them.
Like Mikey, some of our clients come for massage because they like it. They can tell that good touch is good for them.
Most Clients Want to Feel Better.
In contrast to some of our iffy-er claims, there is growing research support for the notion that massage helps anxiety, pain, and depression. Who doesn’t know someone with anxiety, pain, or depression? Who hasn’t experienced those things for themselves? These are compelling.
In massage therapy, we’ve been focused on the smaller effects: What we call the mechanistic outcomes of massage, like changes in blood levels of endorphins, cortisol, this or that. This detracts from other, growing support for clinical outcomes. Mechanisms are important, yes, but not as an exclusive focus of our research, our websites, and our literature.
The Massage Therapy Foundation gives us regular, reliable updates about the effects of massage. The Foundation tells us whether massage helps certain conditions, and sometimes why and how it helps. It is one source of massage therapy research that is in process. The Foundation email newsletter is a fine one to find in your inbox.
Massage Therapy is Wonderful.
In many ways, it sells itself. We don’t have to rest on questionable statements to sell it. In fact, if a client, knowing a thing or two about science or clinical research, happens to call you out on a flimsy claim, it casts doubt on the true, real benefits of massage. It’s also humiliating.*
For now, we need to work on our packaging and labeling. Cereal boxes tell us what’s inside and what is not. Consumers decide whether to buy the gluten, oats, refined sugar, or nuts. With the occasional exception of a fresh fruit topping that isn’t part of the deal,** what you see on the package is pretty much what you get.
Clean, simple claims about massage are a clearer call to those who need our help. Without distracting fanfare about toxins and endorphins, consumers can better understand our work. We move massage therapy forward when we leave behind what was never there in the first place.
Plain labeling puts us on sturdier ground.
The Best Advertising is the Truth.
Skilled touch is food. People are hungry.
Let’s feed each other food.
*Trust me on this.
**What’s that about? Maybe the statement, “Our cereal is part of a balanced breakfast.”
Thank you to the Massage Therapy Foundation and all its volunteers for making 5 Myths and Truths about Massage Therapy happen. Most especially, thank you to Michael Reynolds of Spinweb for designing it, and Melissa Finley and Joe Russ of Anatomy in Motion for sponsoring the e-book. Check out all of the Foundation’s free e-books and other resources. Even better, throw them a little love money in an end of year donation. I promise they’ll return the love.