Skinny product, fat profit

“Imagine the following scenario: You are shopping at your local store when you encounter a product shaped like a human form (e.g., Coca-Cola bottles or Pom’s juice). As you continue shopping, is it possible that the exposure to those human shapes alters how much you spend on this shopping trip?”

What an intriguing question asked by researchers from the University of Colorado: How do the shapes we see around us impact what we buy? And further, does this change depending on whether we are fat or thin?

High BMI plus thin shape = indulgent customer

To find out the researchers had a group of study participants first look at either thin or round shapes and match them to descriptors like “clear” or “dark”. Then, in one seemingly unrelated task, participants were asked to buy a bottle of water. They could choose between the relatively expensive Fiji water and a generic, cheaper option. In other tasks, participants were asked whether they preferred a frugal or indulgent lifestyle, and whether they would prefer to buy something on credit or wait 3 months to save up.

Later, the researchers coded the participants according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) so they could understand whether there was a relationship between body weight and associations with product shapes.

What did they find? Participants with a high BMI (i.e. overweight) who were primed with a thin shape were more likely to spend more on expensive (indulgent) water, say they preferred an indulgent lifestyle and use credit to buy, whereas low BMI participants who saw a thin shape were not more likely to act in these ways.

The researchers speculate that in Western society, thinness is positively associated with hard work, success and financial achievement. Shapes that represent this ‘thin ideal’ therefore trigger people who may not live up to this to feel bad about their ability to manage their behaviour, and therefore act more indulgently. Being subconsciously reminded that they lack the discipline to manage their weight turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As a business, this research reminds us that our customers are influenced by their environment more than they (and we) perhaps realise.

The shape of logos impacts product perception

As a further illustration, the shape of your logo might be impacting how your customers regard your product. Researchers in this case were interested in the difference a rounded or angular logo could make to sales of shoes and sofas.

After being presented with a picture of either a pair of shoes or sofa with a rounded or angular logo, research participants were asked to give a rating of the product. Those primed with a rounded logo rated the shoes and sofa as “more comfortable”, whereas those who saw the angular logo thought each product was “more durable”.

The key takeaway from both pieces of research is we need to be considered when designing product packaging and logos. Not only do these elements serve functional and aesthetic roles, they affect the subconscious behaviour of our buyer. While there are many inexpensive design services available these days, be sure the one you choose can explain the behavioural psychology that underpins their work.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

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