What The American “Low-Fat Movement” Can Teach Us About Marketing And Grabbing People’s Attention

Over the past several decades, cognitive scientists have discovered that we all have “schemas.”

Schemas are organized clusters of knowledge you hold in your mind about a subject or event.

For instance, I couldn’t tell you how a car engine works. My “car engine schema” isn’t very sophisticated or accurate.

Compare that to a car mechanic, whose schema about a car engine is much more accurate than mine. Their knowledge and experience are far greater.

These schemas represent our conceptual and perceptual understanding of how the world works (on both a small and large scale).

When a schema becomes commonplace and widely-accepted, it creates unique opportunities for other brands and entrepreneurs to add value to the market, which you’ll see in this case study of the low-fat movement.

Content and ideas that don’t match our current schemas trigger the sensation of surprise.

Suppose you’re in Chicago holding a map of New York. You won’t get far and will likely have to use trial and error to get around.

If you’ve been trying to navigate Chicago with a map of New York your whole life, you’ll be shocked when you realize it’s the wrong map.

If I show you a separate map of Chicago to assist you, you’re now faced with a “map mismatch.”

And now the choice is yours. 

You can begin experimenting and exploring with this new map to see if it’s accurate. Or you can keep your map of Chicago.

In this article, I use the term “mismatch” to explain what happens when someone acquires information or ideas that don’t match their existing schema or model.

This mismatch is why counter-intuitive ideas are a powerful mechanism for grabbing people’s attention.

Counter-intuitive ideas present us with a schema-mismatch. And if this idea also speaks to an urgent fear or desire, there’s a high chance it’ll get our attention (and investment).

If you want to create valuable content or ideas for your brand, then understanding this is crucial.

As marketers and entrepreneurs, grabbing attention is one of our most valuable assets.

So, before we dive in, I want to say that this article is not intended to be medical advice. 

Nor is this article meant to “point-the-finger” and blame anyone for the events that occurred. It’s become clear that once an idea gets set in motion, it can be hard to stop it — like a snowball that builds upon itself — especially when there are conflicts of interest.

This article intends to reveal why and how most Americans adopted the low-fat diet as part of their “health schema” from a cognitive science perspective.

Specifically, I’m interested in why Americans adopted the belief that low-fat was an ideal dieting approach for preventing heart disease and losing weight. And how this schema spread.

Our Existing Schemas Position Counter-Intuitive Brands To Get Attention And Grow

Researcher Ann F. La Berge refers to the low-fat diet as an ideology, because in the 1980s, it was “the faith-inspiring and widely accepted notion that a low-fat diet was good for all Americans.”

Despite the low-fat diet becoming the leading model for ideal heart health and weight loss, Americans were still becoming obese. Ironically, this led to what many would call an obesity epidemic.

Once this “low-fat schema” took hold (with the accompanying Food Pyramid model), any dieting approach that wasn’t low-fat became counter-intuitive. 

This created an environment for brands to use counter-intuitive marketing messages to get people’s attention.

Once low-fat became a widely accepted dieting approach, any brand who disagreed with this (Atkins, Keto, and Paleo, to name a few) could break this “low-fat schema” by suggesting that fats were actually good to eat.

These ideas presented people with information that didn’t match their current health schema, triggering the sensation of surprise.

This positioned brands to earn attention and growth.

So how did the low-fat movement start? 

And how did this create an environment where brands could break this schema, get attention, and build profitable businesses?

This Century-Long Mindset Set The Foundation For The Low-Fat Movement

Americans already had an established dieting culture in the early 20th century — according to historian Peter Stearns.

Being skinny and slim was desirable.

The preferred approach to staying slim was to count calories. And dieters who were serious about staying slim knew that each gram of protein and carb had four calories, while fat had nine.

So it became common to associate low calories with low fat, since each gram of fat had more than twice the calories than a gram of protein or carbs.

This logic is similar to the proverbial saying, “you are what you eat.” People generally agree that if you eat fresh and organic food, then you’ll be healthier. But this logic could also be interpreted as, “If you eat fat, then you were more likely to become fat.”

This century-long mindset and preference for low calories (and low-fat to stay slim) set the foundation for the American “low-fat schema.”

So what set this schema in motion?

In the 1940s, scientists and physicians found that coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States.

So they began searching for the root cause of it.

One famous researcher who strongly influenced the low-fat movement was Ancel Keys and his famous “Seven Countries Study.”

This is paramount to the history of the low-fat movement because several decades of nutrition education and policy in America were based on this study.

Keys’ suggested a strong correlation between diets high in saturated fats (and cholesterol) and an increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

This study led to the famous “lipid hypothesis,” claiming that fat and cholesterol were the primary causes of heart disease.

Keys promoted his research and was put on the cover of “Time” magazine.

And shortly after he promoted low-fat, in 1957, the American Heart Association (AHA) would begin proposing that Americans monitor their fat intake to reduce the chances of heart disease.

The “low-fat schema” was set in motion.

The War Between Opposing Health Schemas

There were scientists and physicians in the medical community who opposed Ancel Keys’ study.

They weren’t convinced that Keys’ research was conclusive evidence that fat was the root cause of heart disease.

One popular figure who disagreed with the lipid hypothesis was British scientist John Yudkin.

He largely opposed it because he was finding compelling connections between dietary sugar and heart disease. But he’d be continuously discredited and criticized by Keys and by the sugar industry, who profited from processed foods that were “low-fat” but higher in sucrose.

Instead of running more controlled experiments, Keys stuck with his initial hypothesis that fat was the root cause of the American health dilemma.

Anyone in the medical community who disagreed — like John Yudkin — wasn’t given much of a platform to speak.

The lengths that people went to discredit scientists and physicians who disagreed is significant. Their ability to shut-down everyone who challenged the lipid hypothesis contributed to the spread of the “low-fat schema.”

Here is one well-documented example of this scientific censoring.

In 1965 the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) funded a research project and published it in the NEJM. It explained how fat and cholesterol were the primary causes of heart disease. And it shared that sugar (or sucrose) wasn’t much of a concern.

But here’s what’s interesting.

Internal documents revealed that the SRF “sought to influence the scientific debate over the dietary causes of CHD [congenital heart disease] in the 1950s and 1960s.”

How did they do this?

Well, it was clear that Yudkin’s research was making the SRF panic (namely, the sugar industry and manufacturers of processed foods).

So they embarked on this research project to combat “negative attitudes towards sugars.” They called it Project 226.

Project 226 was a literature review researched by Mark Hegsted and Robert McGandy, overseen by Frederick Snare (who was chair of the Harvard University School of the Public Health Nutrition Department and a member of SRF’s scientific advisory board).

The SRF would eventually pay Hegsted and McGandy $6,500 (roughly $48,900 now) for “a review article of the several papers which find some special metabolic peril in sucrose and, in particular, fructose.”

Project 226 would go on to be published in the NEJM in 1967. No mention of the SRF’s funding or involvement was found in it.

There were clear conflicts of interest.

We can thank Dr. Cristin Kearns for discovering the SRF’s involvement.

She was digging through some archives and stumbled on internal documents from the 1960s revealing the SRF’s attempt to influence public opinion about sugar and fat (clearly aiming to discredit Yudkin’s sugar hypothesis).

It’s obvious who dominated the conversation regarding the cause of heart disease at the time.

This is significant because our health schema would be completely different if scientists like Yudkin weren’t discredited.

So we see how popular science created the catalyst for the “low-fat schema.”

What else contributed to the movement?

The Forces That Contributed To This Snowball Effect

The history of federal government involvement in the American diet dates all the way back to 1862.

So when popular science indicated that low-fat is enemy #1 for people’s health, the government began recommending that Americans reduce their fat consumption.

By 1977, the Federal Government was telling people to eat low-fat.

Towards the end of the 1980s, even the World Health Organization (WHO) was promoting low-fat.

And in 1992, the USDA released the famous Food Pyramid model, lending its full support to the low-fat movement.

According to academic nutritionist Marion Nestle, it was “the most widely distributed and best recognized nutrition education device ever produced in this country.”

Also, the AHA introduced a program that labeled food with a “heart-healthy” seal of approval. Food companies could pay and get this label put on their packaged foods.

Since the science at the time indicated that “low-fat” was “heart-healthy,” it fell in alignment with the current health schema (and food companies benefited).

These companies began replacing fat with sugar in their processed foods and labeled it “low-fat.”

So with Americans being educated with the Food Pyramid AND constantly seeing low-fat food being branded as “heart-healthy” in grocery stores, it’s no wonder how the low-fat schema would become deeply ingrained into American culture.

Once the lipid hypothesis became the scientific consensus and the government began encouraging Americans to monitor their fat intake, popular media would play a role in spreading content and promoting low-fat as the ideal dieting approach.

Specifically, the two most popular health sources at the time — Prevention Magazine and The New York Times — both subscribed to the lipid hypothesis and promoted low-fat diets in the 1980s.

All these forces combined to create a Snowball Effect.

As Skeptics Emerged, Brands Delivered Their Counter-Intuitive Message (And Gained Attention)

Now it’s a bit clearer how the “low-fat schema” for most Americans became commonplace.

There was always a sub-culture of scientists and physicians who disagreed with the lipid hypothesis. But towards the end of the century, more skeptics began emerging.

Some individuals would even raise concerns about the reliability of Ancel Keys’ research, questioning one of the pillar studies that set the low-fat movement into motion.

For instance, Robert H. Lustig — UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology — explains that Keys wrote in his study that sucrose and saturated fat were intercorrelated but failed to perform the sucrose half of his multivariate correlation analysis.

In other words — according to Lustig — Keys’ research is unreliable.

His medical lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth became extremely popular on YouTube, getting millions of views and having people question the low-fat diet.

As more professionals began presenting valid arguments that criticized the lipid hypothesis, this created an environment where low-carb brands and businesses could contribute to the health industry.

Many of these brands had a counter-intuitive idea: low-carb (or no-carb) was the answer for combating heart disease and weight loss.

Some notable brands are Atkins and entrepreneurs who’ve built a platform around the Paleo and Keto diet.

Many of them have grown their brands and become profitable.

They decided that a low-fat diet isn’t for everyone (themselves included).

So they proposed an idea that is counter-intuitive to someone with the “low-fat schema.” Dietary fat is not the enemy. Carbs and sugar are.

And when they share this message, they create a mismatch between their content and the audiences’ existing “low-fat schema.”

This creates the sensation of surprise, a key mechanism in grabbing someone’s attention.

And since health is an urgent and serious problem people struggle with, many were willing to invest.

Someone struggling on a low-fat diet will be compelled to click an article or watch a video that explains that “there’s another way” and that “eating fat is actually good.”

Here are the top takeaways from this case study:

  • We all have schemas or models of how the world works (some more ingrained than others).
  • It’s important to become aware of your audiences’ schema and how it works to get their attention.
  • If you have a solution that reveals a “mismatch” within someone’s existing schema, you’ll create the sensation of surprise and get their attention.
  • If you add value after getting their attention, you’ll have the ability to grow your brand and business.

Join My Newsletter

Receive one powerful marketing insight a week.

The Top Skill For Replicating High Achievers & Successful Lead Generation Campaigns

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

-Isaac Newton

In my entrepreneurial journey, I quickly learned the power of modeling successful people.

  • In college, I began studying the most talented copywriters that I could find (Joseph Sugarman, David Ogilvy, and Gary Halbert to name a few).
  • When starting my business, I studied successful sales funnels (and the marketers behind them, such as Russell Brunson)
  • I studied coaching and teaching from some of the most brilliant educators that I could access (Eben Pagan, Annie Lalla, and Wyatt Woodsmall)
  • And countless others.

Before realizing the importance of modeling, I had this “lone wolf” mentality.

I’d say statements like… “I’ll figure this out on my own.” And it resulted in slow growth (and I made tons of unnecessary mistakes).

Don’t get me wrong, independent thinking is important! Modeling does NOT mean copying OR mindlessly following a leader.

And when combining independent thinking with proper modeling, you can streamline your business success.

Major thinkers and high achievers already have an understanding of how to create the outcomes that YOU want.

So why do we make it harder on ourselves? Why reinvent the wheel?

This is what we’ll be exploring so that we can become more profitable in our businesses and create a larger impact on others.

And at the end, I’ll share how you can begin modeling successful lead generation campaigns.

This ultimately helps you…

  • Achieve your outcomes faster
  • Make less unnecessary mistakes
  • Avoid wasting your time, energy, and money on subpar strategies.

Why Do We Actually Make It Harder On Ourselves? Here’s What Happens Behind-The-Scenes…

selective focus brain

Your mind will play tricks on you when you begin growing your business online.

And understanding this will allow you to “get out of your own way” and start hitting your business milestones.

Richard Wiseman wrote a book called “The Luck Factor.” The basic idea is that people who believe that they’re lucky will start to have “lucky experiences.”

Now, this sounds a little out there. But there’s some interesting psychology happening behind-the-scenes.

I’m going to share a quick story that you may have experienced yourself.

A couple of years back I took a road trip to San Diego with one of my good friends. He’d recently bought a brand new black jaguar, and we decided to use it for the drive to San Diego.

He drove it all the way there, and I drove it back (which was tons of fun)!

But after the trip was over, something interesting happened…

I started noticing black jaguars’ on the road! On the highway. Parking lots. Everywhere!

Before taking this trip, it had never even been on my radar.

Perhaps you had an experience where you were exposed to something new (such as a brand new car or object). And even when you were no longer using it, you would still notice it everywhere!

Your Brain Has “Selective Focus”

This story illustrates your brain’s ability to use its “reticular activating system” or “RAS.”

Without going deep into the science of it, think of this as your brain’s ability to have “selective focus.”

Your RAS is very similar to the confirmation bias. This is our tendency as humans to seek out information to confirm our existing paradigms, belief structures, theories, and knowledge.

We all do this, no one’s exempt from this cognitive bias.

For example, if you’re focusing on negativity, your brain will find ways to reinforce that paradigm. If you’re convinced that today will be horrible, then you’ll most definitely find ways to make it happen.

On the flip-side, if you’re focused on having an amazing day, you’ll find ways to be grateful and happy (even if it was full of challenges and obstacles).

Spooky stuff! But understanding how your psychology works will allow you to get out of your own way.

They’re two things I want you to take away from this:

  • You get whatever you focus on
  • You largely get what you expect

This is why you want to model successful entrepreneurs and marketers (or anybody who’s accomplished what you want).

And here’s the main reason why.

If you haven’t achieved your goals yet, what’s the underlying assumption?

What you’re currently focusing on (and doing) isn’t working.

And this is largely due to the RAS and confirmation bias. Your brain is looking for information that confirms it’s existing paradigms.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

This is why you see high achievers utilize masterminds and coaching for themselves.

Name someone who’s successful in your industry, and I can guarantee you that they’ve had some form of mentorship, coaching, or role model (even if they claim they achieved success all by themselves).

Modeling is a skill set. The better we can get at replicating success, the more effective we become.

[Lessons Learned From Tim Ferriss and Michael Simmons] — A 4 Step Process For Modeling High Achievers

I want to share 4 steps you can use to model high achievers. This will cover a “meta” approach that you can apply to almost any domain.

This is largely inspired by the learning cycle that Michael Simmons teaches. So if you find this content useful and interesting, be sure to check him out!

In the next section, I’ll share a quick process for modeling lead generation campaigns so that you can grow your business online.

1. Identify the person or thing you want to model

Most naturally, this is the first part. You’ll want to identify who/what to model. This also means you’ll need to know your goals and vision.

Do you want to improve your copywriting? Begin identifying who the best copywriters are.

Want to learn how to grow an audience? Begin identifying the most influential and persuasive people who’ve built large followings.

2. Create a blueprint (Tim Ferriss style)

This is where you want to begin connecting the dots and piecing knowledge together.

In essence, you’ll want to create a blueprint from whoever you’re modeling.

Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Chef” has a few chapters that masterfully illustrates this step. The book is all about learning how to learn and how to model top performers. I’ll share a few of the concepts here:

Deconstruction: This is where you want to break down the underlying skill or ability that you’re modeling into manageable pieces.

In other words, what are the key components?

For example: the copywriting formula “AIDA” is trying to deconstruct the complex world of copywriting into some manageable pieces.

Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.

Selection: This is where you select the 80/20.

What’s the 20% that results in 80% of success?

When trying to model someone (and QUICKLY replicate their success), we’ll want to focus on the most important stuff.

In the words of Henk Kraaijenhof, here’s a hint for how to do this: “Do as little as needed, not as much as possible.”

Sequencing: In what order should you learn the key components?

In essence, here are the 3 questions that Tim Ferriss recommends for sequencing your modeling process:

  1. What are the commonalities among the best competitors?
  2. Which of these are NOT being actively taught in most classes? This usually is “implicit expertise,” which is what high performers do under pressure AND are unaware of (OR they simply don’t know how to verbalize their expertise to their students). This is also called tacit knowledge.
  3. Which implicit skills could you get good at really fast??

This’ll allow you to create an effective blueprint.

3. Experiment and begin replicating

When learning anything, knowledge without action is useless (unless, of course, you’re just reading for pleasure).

If we consider the quote by Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” then we need to somehow climb up the shoulders!

This means we should start experimenting with what we’ve discovered in step #2.

4. Get feedback and iterate

By learning from experience, you begin to gain some feedback.

What’s working? What’s not working?

We take these “learnings” and plug them back into our experiments.

And over-time, we’ll find ourselves on the shoulders of giants!

Now Let’s Model Successful Lead Generation Campaigns

This process is useful for anyone who wants to model successful lead funnels, ad copy, landing page copy, landing page design, and overall lead generation strategy.

Russell Brunson would call this process “funnel hacking.” It’s just modeling successful marketing campaigns.

And since it’s all public information, anybody can utilize this process.

To begin, consider researching an industry or niche similar to yours.

For our example, I found a company called “Barefoot Writer.” They’re a company that helps people become highly-paid and sought-after writers.

Let’s begin!

Step 1: Find their Business Facebook Page

After you know which business you want to model, check out their business page on Facebook.

step 1 barefoot writer

Step 2: Scroll Down to Page Transparency

In this step, we want to see if they have any active ads running on Facebook. This is where we’ll begin modeling the lead generation process.

Scroll down to view “Page Transparency.”

Click “See More.”

step 2 barefoot writer

After clicking, you’ll be able to see if they have any active ads running.

If they’re currently running ads, click “Go to Ad Library.”

If they’re NOT currently running ads, you’ll want to find another business to model for the time being.

facebook ad library page

Step 3: Select an Ad to Model

Now you’ll be able to see the ads that the business is using. They’re a couple of things you want to look out for:

  • Make sure it’s an active ad
  • Check to see how long it’s been running. The longer the ad has been running, the more likely the campaign is hitting the business’ KPIs (and converting well).

Once you’ve checked off these two bullets, click “See Ad Details.”

step 3 barefoot writer

After viewing the details of the ad, you’ll have an option to click their CTA. This will link to a landing page where they have their offer.

In the case of our example, it’s a lead magnet.

Step 4: Model the Landing Page

Once you’re on the landing page, you’ll have tons of information to model:

  • Hooks
  • Stories
  • Offers
  • Design
  • Strategy

But don’t stop here!

Step 5: Continue Until the End of the Funnel

Image for post

I’d recommend going through the full funnel! That’ll give you insights into marketing strategies and processes.

  • Check out the thank you page.
  • Do they have an upsell page?
  • What does their follow-up email look like?
  • Etc

And there you have it.

I’m looking forward to seeing you on the shoulders of giants!

Join My Newsletter

Receive one powerful marketing insight a week.

The Power Of Incentives: How To Generate Leads In 4 Basic Steps

“An incentive is a bullet, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”

-Steven Levitt, co-author of best-selling book Freakonomics.

Understanding incentives gives you leverage. It’ll allow you to generate more influence, profit, and impact on your business.

And I want to share how you can use incentives to grow your business.

I was thinking about 20% of lead generation activities that provide you with 80% of results.

And one of the things that kept coming up for me was this idea.

From a human psychology perspective, incentives drive ALL human behavior.

If you’ve ever been confused about why someone does anything, look at the underlying incentives behind-the-curtains.

The benefit of incentives boils down to persuasion and influence.

If you know what your audience cares about, you can provide the correct incentive to nudge them to action.

For example, a common incentive for generating leads online is using a “lead magnet” or a free gift. This is something valuable that an audience can receive at a low-level of investment.

Even though I’ll use lead generation to illustrate this persuasion principle, an incentive can be anything. The key is in understanding what your audience wants AND needs.

Once you understand this, you can unlock action.

You’ll be able to generate more leads and make a significant impact through your business.

What Makes Incentives So Powerful?

Image for post

Author and entrepreneur Stephen Covey used an analogy he called the “emotional bank account.”

So in any relationship, both people make “deposits” or “withdrawals.” Deposits add value to the relationship, while withdrawals take value. Value is defined by what each partner cares about.

Your bank account balance represents the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.

If there are too many withdrawals, then there will be a low level of trust in the relationship.

But if both people are making deposits consistently, they’ll have a larger bank account balance and higher trust (a much healthier relationship). 

This is a great model for personal relationships.

But it’s also a great model for the relationship you have with your audience and customers!

Imagine that you and your audience share an emotional bank account.

You make deposits by adding value (fulfilling their wants and needs).

And they make deposits by investing their time, effort, and money to receive this value.

Remember, it’s a two-way street! If someone is constantly taking withdrawals or NOT making deposits, the relationship will be weaker (and lack trust).

But why is this so powerful for your business?

Because by having a higher “balance” in this emotional bank account, you build more trust with your audience.

And you need trust if you want to incentivize someone to join your community and become a lead.

Invite Your Ideal Prospect To Invest

An incentive is an invitation for someone to invest (and make deposits into this emotional bank account).

A relationship doesn’t really begin until both people have invested.

And by incentivizing someone to take action, you’ve started your relationship on a strong note (if you’re adding value).

We can then use the psychology of reciprocity and investment to nurture our relationships with our audience.

And here’s the best part.

Having a higher “balance” in the emotional bank account compounds the leve lof trust over-time.

By having more trust, you reinforce more investment into your brand (thereby creating more trust!)

Read here about “reinforcing feedback loops” to see this principle in action across multiple domains.

The 4 Steps For Using Incentives To Attract Leads With Lead Magnets!

Image for post

So by now, we know that incentives are essential for persuasion and attracting leads.

One of the most typical incentives in online business is lead magnets.

So how can we use incentives to attract leads and grow your business online?

Step 1: What value can you provide?

This is the most important part. If you don’t know what your audience cares about, it doesn’t matter what you do after this step.

Here are some questions to ask yourself (or better yet… ask people who represent your ideal customer):

  • Question 1: What does your ideal customer want to avoid? Why?
  • Question 2: What does your ideal customer want to achieve? Why?

This step is complete when you have a handful of answers for each.

Step 2: Package your value into a lead magnet

Once you understand what your audience cares about, it’s time to package it up into something you can deliver.

You want this to be easy to set up and easy for your audience to use.

Here are some common examples:

  • eBook
  • Training video
  • Mini-course
  • Checklist
  • Etc

Once you found a “package” that suits your lead magnet, execute and create version 1.0 (it doesn’t need to be perfect!)

Step 3: Deliver lead magnet to your audience

It’s time to deliver your lead magnet.

As yourself, “Where is my ideal customer?”

Once you figure out where they’re congregating, experiment with different marketing “hooks” that incentivize them to get your lead magnet.

Once you know where your audience is AND you’ve begun persuading them to invest in your lead magnet, you’ve completed this step.

Step 4: Ascend the relationship

The reason we incentivized your audience to take action was to receive their contact info (email, Facebook Group Membership, or other list-building source).


Because you’ll want a platform that allows you to follow-up with them.

Following up is how you nurture the relationship with your audience.

This step is complete when you consistently follow-up with your audience by adding value and incentivizing them to invest more (ultimately buying your products/services).

Your incentive has two benefits:

  1. It incentivizes them to invest in your lead magnet (via your marketing).
  2. It incentivizes them to continue their relationship with you because your lead magnet actually helped them.

What If You Utilized Powerful Incentives In Your Business?

Imagine that you’ve figured out what your audience cares about.

You know you can really help them through your business (and become more profitable through the process).

So you begin using powerful incentives that motivate your audience to take action.

You begin building your audience. Generating leads. Customers. And more…

This is the power of incentives.

Join My Newsletter

Receive one powerful marketing insight a week.