Shoppers balance present and future behaviors

October 21, 2009

Here’s a new twist on how messages affect consumers’ food choices while shopping:

Here’s a new twist on how messages affect consumers’ food choices while shopping: Words that suggest self-control lead people to choose a healthy snack for immediate consumption and an indulgent snack for later. Words that suggest indulgence increase the likelihood of an indulgent snack choice right away and a healthy one in the future.

“This result arises from people’s need to balance behaviors performed in the present with behaviors that will be performed in the future,” wrote Juliano Laran, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami, in his study, Choosing Your Future: Temporal Distance and the Balance Between Self-Control and Indulgence, which was published online in the Journal of Consumer Research and will appear in the print edition next April.

CPG marketers that incorporate these insights into their packages, coupons and collateral materials could potentially add more ‘purchase urge’ at the shelf and secondary displays. Store operators that frame their category sets with appropriate language could subliminally affect the choices shoppers make in their aisles, we believe at  

Getting inside the minds of shoppers, CPG and retailers could find more certain ways to satisfy them and help mentally categorize foods by different eating occasions—all while pumping up their own performance in the process. The trade has taken many steps to do this better, including closer collaboration on Shopper Marketing, and more sophisticated data mining. 

Academic researchers are another valuable resource. In this instance, the JCR article points the way to words, concepts and positioning that could be golden for everyone. 
This is the same journal that taught us earlier this year in a separate study how people choose indulgent foods when healthier ones are available. Their editors look to be on top of the triggers that sway American shoppers—as people battle dietary temptation in every aisle, aware of the consequences of their decisions.

A second study by Mr. Laran examined the persuasiveness of language on spending vs. saving. Surrounded by words associated with spending, study participants said they saw themselves spending in the present and saving in the future. When savings words were prevalent, people were likelier to save in the present and spend in the future. We can all understand the power of language on cash flow.