I’ve probably mentioned somewhere in this blog that I am an avid reader. My choices for reading material are pretty eclectic and recently I picked up a book called CONTAGIOUS (Why Things Catch On) by Jonah Berger. It’s basically a book about marketing strategies and why certain things catch on and why certain things flounder. In reading this book I discovered a couple of things about myself … including the fact that I am pretty gullible when it comes to advertising. But then there are millions and millions of dollars spent every year to ensure that gullibility. Professor Berger explains why.
He and a colleague also performed a study done in college cafeterias, and this study in particular caught my attention. It was simple and something that everyone can apply to our day-to-day lives.
In the chapter titled “From Mars Bars to Voting and How Triggers Effect Behavior” Professor Berger explains it like this …
“Why does it matter if particular thoughts or ideas are top of mind? Because accessible thoughts and ideas lead to action.”
… “Music researchers Adrian North, David Hargreaves, and Jennifer McKendrick examined how triggers might affect supermarket buying behavior more broadly. You know the Muzak you’re used to hearing while you shop for groceries? Well, North, Hargreaves, and McKendrick subtly replaced it with music from different countries. Some days they played French music while other days they played German music—what you’d expect to hear outside a French café on the banks of the Seine and what you might expect to hear at Oktoberfest. Then they measured the type of wine people purchased.
When French music was playing, most customers bought French wine. When German music was playing most customers bought German wine. By triggering consumers to think of different countries, the music affected sales. The music made ideas related to those countries more accessible, and those accessible ideas spilled over to affect behavior.
Psychologist Gráinne Fitzsimons and I conducted a related study on how to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Promoting healthy eating habits is tough. Most people realize they should eat more fruits and vegetables. Most people will even say that they mean to eat more fruits and vegetables. But somehow when the time comes to put fruits and vegetables into shopping carts or onto dinner plates, people forget. We thought we’d use triggers to help them remember.
Students were paid twenty dollars to report what they ate every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at their nearby dining hall. Monday: a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal, two helpings of turkey lasagna with a side salad, and a pulled pork sandwich with spinach and fries. Tuesday: yogurt with fruit and walnuts, pepperoni pizza with Sprite, and shrimp pad thai.
Halfway through the two weeks we’d designated for the study, the students were asked to participate in what seemed like an unrelated experiment from a different researcher. They were asked to provide feedback on a public-health slogan targeting college students. Just to be sure they remembered the slogan, they were shown it more than twenty times, printed in different colors and fonts.
One group of students saw the slogan “Live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day.”Another group saw “Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day.” Both slogans encouraged people to eat fruits and vegetables, but the tray slogan did so using a trigger. The students lived on campus, and many of them ate in dining halls that used trays. So we wanted to see if we could trigger healthy eating behavior by using the dining room tray to remind students of the slogan.
Our students didn’t care for the tray slogan. They called it “corny” and rated it as less than half as attractive as the more generic “live healthy” slogan. Further, when asked whether the slogan would influence their own fruit and vegetable consumption, the students who had been shown the “tray” slogan were significantly more likely to say no.
But when it came to actual behavior, the effects were striking. Students who had been shown the more generic “live healthy” slogan didn’t change their eating habits. But students who had seen the “tray” slogan and used trays in their cafeterias markedly changed their behavior. The trays reminded them of the slogan and they ate 25 percent more fruits and vegetables as a result. The trigger worked.
We were pretty excited by the results. Getting college students to do anything—let alone eat more fruits and vegetables—is an impressive feat.”
This got me thinking about triggers. In his book Professor Berger often uses the phrase “top of mind … tip of tongue”. That phrase is so true under many circumstances, but we’ll stick to weight issues here.
In most homes the refrigerator becomes a communication hub for the household. Covered in magnets it holds family photos, post cards, children’s art, permission slips to sign, recipes we are meaning to try or simply cute magnets on their own. My children are grown and gone and I still have magnets on the door of my refrigerator.
So I got to thinking … always dangerous, ask anyone … what if you moved some of those bits and pieces to the side, or lower down on the fridge, maybe get rid of that chocolate cake recipe altogether and put up some pictures of fruits and vegetables. That way when you have the munchies and are getting ready to raid the fridge those luscious strawberries will be the first thing you see. If you are thinking of crispy chips and walk into the kitchen, crunchy celery catches the corner of your eye.
And following through with Professor Berger’s theory, you may find that refrigerators in general trigger you to eat more fruits and veggies?
“Top of Mind … Tip of Tongue”
Yup … I do like that!