Food ads should highlight more than flavor, say researchers

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Food advertising that highlights senses other than taste works better than that which focuses on taste alone, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

Earlier studies have highlighted the importance of other senses – smell in particular – in taste perception, but previous research into their role in food marketing has largely examined the role of vision.

While most food advertising focuses on the product’s taste, this latest research, published in The Journal of Consumer Research,​ suggests that rewording advertising copy could improve consumers’ taste perception and help food manufacturers better differentiate themselves from competitors.

“Advertising within the food and beverage industry rarely addresses perceptions beyond taste,”​ the authors wrote. “The results from our studies suggest that advertising should include multiple sensory attributes of the products as this has a significant impact on perceptions of the product.”

The study consisted of three different experiments involving gum, potato chips and popcorn and split participants into two categories: One was given a written advertising slogan or verbal message that referred to flavor alone, while the other referred to other sensory perceptions such as texture, sound and smell.

With popcorn, for example, the participants were exposed to advertising that either evoked a “delicious, buttery flavor and a taste that dances on your tongue” ​or a “delicious, buttery texture and a crunch that’s music to your ears”.

Participants in the multi-sensory group rated the flavor of products as “significantly more positive” ​than those in the single-sense group.

“These findings are particularly relevant for the food industry, including packaged goods and restaurants, as it continues to spend billions of dollars in advertising the taste of food, one of our most pleasurable and sensory experiences,”​ the authors wrote.

They also found that simple slogans had a similar effect. For chewing gum, they found that participants who had read the slogan ‘stimulate your senses’ rated the gum’s flavor as better than those who had read ‘long-lasting flavor’.

The authors added: "Companies can implement the findings into product packaging information to alter the taste of products consumed in the home. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, ensuring positive consumption experiences is critical to success."

Although the researchers looked at the effect of deliberate messages on taste perception, they suggest that future research could examine the effect of visual stimuli in isolation from verbal stimuli, as pictures may be processed more automatically than verbal messages.

Source: Journal of Consumer Research

Published online ahead of print

"The Effects of Advertising Copy on Sensory Thoughts and Perceived Taste"

Authors: Ryan S. Elder and Aradhna Krishna

Related topics: R&D

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