World Cup Winners? Coca Cola, of course

Apparently, there’s some sort of football competition going on out in Russia.  England could easily win it, all they have to do is field the women’s team instead of the men and the trophy is as good as ours. Whatever the outcome of this quaint-but-hugely-profitable tradition, of course, the real winners are almost certain to be the marketers and those smart brands that cleverly associate themselves with the world’s largest sporting event in true Pavlovian style.

As the competition gets underway, it’s worth pausing to give special mention to Coca Cola, the World Cup’s longest-standing corporate partner. This is a company that really understands the concept of conditioned emotional responses. Just as Santa’s red suit and the lorry travelling the country have become firmly fixed in our Christmas psyche, so the World Cup affords another opportunity for Coca Cola to associate its brand image with the excitement and anticipation of a truly global sporting occasion – with global TV audiences to match, of course.

Whether in India, China, Turkey or the USA, 70% of TV viewers will place Coca Cola top of their league when asked to list the first brands that spring to mind after a game, with Classic Coke itself as the most-recalled product. Only Adidas comes vaguely close to catching up with the famous red cans among World Cup audiences.  An investment worth every penny for the world’s number one soft drinks brand. And of course they have the creative campaigns in place to fully exploit this powerful association.

Logos on cans, limited edition products, branded songs… you name it, it’s there. A text book case study of effective sponsorship collateral for any marketing course.  Worth special mention, if only because of my long-standing love of the c-store sector, is the partnership with 7-Eleven that brings special promotions and pricing to over 61,000 small retail outlets worldwide – a more significant alliance for Coca Cola than with any larger supermarket chain.

My own personal favourite, though, has got to be the team-branded cans. Just as the named bottles encouraged us to “be social” in our Coke drinking a short while ago, becoming one of the most successful campaigns of all time bar Santa Claus, so the chance to drink the real thing from your own team’s can seems set to steal the show as the true competition-winner of Russia 2018.  Inspired!

Winning at shelf – with music!

Background music in a store is a potentially contentious issue among consumers.  Some find it soothing, others annoying. For many consumers – including me – it often just washes over us completely and we don’t even know it’s there, unless it suddenly intrudes of course and disturbs our train of thought.  Love it or loath it, though, most of us accept that music has become a near-ubiquitous element of the store environment and one that is there for a single purpose – to stimulate sales.

The literature on so-called ‘mood’ music in retailing is vast and there are certain tricks the canny fashion retailer can employ in an attempt to subtly persuade us to part with more of our hard-earned cash. Slow relaxing music encourages us to browse longer, for instance, as well as increasing average spend. Conversely, if a supermarket is becoming crowded, upping the tempo will cause shoppers to unconsciously quicken their pace and clear the congestion without causing irritation or offence. We can even influence in-store behaviour by manipulating bass levels, volume and musical genre, with some effects being specific to particular age groups or displaying pronounced sex differences.

A new paper by Carlos Romero-Rivas and his colleagues potentially extends our repertoire of musical shopper marketing tools a little further.  In a very well-conducted series of experiments, the researchers set out to explore the extent to which different sensory channels may influence each other. Specifically, the data revealed that the music we are listening to can affect our gaze.  For example, in one experimental condition, where our eyes are looking was found to be effected by the pitch of the last note we heard.  Similarly, in the case of a very familiar piece of music, ending the track a note early caused the brain to divert gaze upwards or downwards depending on the expected pitch of the missing notes!  These experiments are important because they give us important clues as to how cross-sensory interference works and how as marketers we might learn to harness such effects.

Any retailer worth their salt knows that shoppers wander around the store most of the time viewing only those products at eye-level, but there may be times when we want to divert gaze elsewhere.  Want your shoppers to glance up to the top shelf? Stop the music on a note with a high pitch. Want them to look downwards at those bulk special offers on the plinth? Easy – just end that latest chart hit prematurely where the next note would be at a very low pitch.

The possibilities are endless and, as our understanding of cross-perceptual interference continues to grow, i’ve no doubt we will soon be able to use music to affect what shoppers taste and smell and feel too!


Coke is still Font-astic!

What do the following products have in common? Campbell’s soups, Old Spice After Shave, Johnson’s Baby Powder, Ray-Ban sunglasses and Coca Cola. Well, it turns out that a key part of their success and longevity could be down simply to the way they present their brand logos. More specifically, rather than being about the colour or size or distinctiveness of the logo itself, the crucial ingredient is probably just the particular font they use.

We’ve long known that fonts are crucial in marketing, of course, as in other areas of life. When I have a presentation to do or a lecture to give, I waste almost as much time choosing a font as I do looking for pointless images to include in my slides on Google (both good tactics for avoiding focusing on content, or course). When it comes to branding, though, the secret is to be less mechanical or futuristic or modern and, instead, to make your logo look as much like handwriting as possible. And new research by Roland Schroll and his colleagues suggests that there is a lot of latent power in them there fonts!

In an interesting series of studies, Schroll et al found that humanising the fonts used increases product appeal. And this doesn’t just apply to the logo itself, any packaging information – from product description to a listing of ingredients – will increase consumer satisfaction and emotional attachment to the product when presented in a pseudo-handwritten style. There is a slight caveat in that the effect is more powerful when consumers already have a degree of attachment to the product anyway and/or they tend to evaluate the product class generally in more emotional terms.  Nonetheless, the results are very interesting because it also seems appears that the importance of the font, somewhat downplayed for many many years, is if anything gaining in its significant.

Why should that be the case? Well, Schroll et al believe this is because of the increasingly technological multi-media world we now live in and the tendency for many of the stimuli we encounter to appear impersonal and almost robotic. The more a font appears like handwriting, the more human the connection with the product feels – brand anthropomorphism, you might say. So, while some may feel the Coca Cola logo may appear a little old-fashioned compared to, say, the bolder modern lettering adorning Voss bottled water, the reality may well be that the font used on The Real Thing will enhance the brand even more in the years to come.

In the meantime, perhaps I should stop worrying about my fonts when preparing lecture slides in future… In fact, if this logic is transferable, I should flip back to using the overhead projector and just write my lectures on good old acetates!

The Seductive Allure of Neuromarketing?

These days, everyone I encounter in the marketing industry seems to be obsessed with neuromarketing, or at least with the idea of using physiological measures to test products and marketing stimuli, casually using terms like “behavioural science” at every opportunity. I can follow the logic – if we can develop unique insights into the internal workings of our customers’ minds, we can influence their decision-making and increase competitive advantage.

It’s an approach I would advocate too, under the right circumstances, and there’s little doubt that consumer neuroscience has led to some very interesting and useful advances in what we know about shoppers. The problem, however, is that it is being over-used and over-sold. The fact is that neuroscience isn’t always the best way to investigate a problem, though it is invariable the most expensive one, and a lot more helpful data could be obtained by simply asking people through surveys or good old-fashioned focus groups. Suggest that to some organisations, though, and they will switch off. They’ve bought into the neuromarketing promise and, in some cases, listened to the snake-oil salesmen peddling these high-tech solutions. Only one major brand (and it’s a huge one) has ever admitted to me that they are sick to death of being offered this and are up to their ears in eye-tracking data and the like that is proving of very limited predictive value.

What’s going on here is what Im, Varma and Varma have called the Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations (SANE). Their study was focused on education, but the findings are equally appropriate here, I think. Compared to use of traditional evidence sources such as statistical tables and graphs, inclusion of neuroscientific explanations and illustrations (e.g. fMRI scans) in research reports made educators significantly more likely to accept and implement the report findings, even when the explanations themselves were completely unnecessary and did nothing to enhance the evidence-base at all. This is exactly the problem brand managers now face – those wonderful brain scans and eye-tracking heat maps make the consultant sitting in front of you seem more scientific and credible, but very often they have nothing new to add and, worse still, they may even be presenting ideas that are based on false assumptions and/or a complete misunderstanding of the cognitive neuroscience literature.

So, as with everything in life, when brand managers meet neuromarketers it needs to be very much a case of “buyer beware”.  And if you are under any doubt as to the dangers inherent in misrepresented or poorly understood neuroscience, there’s a fascinating TED Talk from the renowned Molly Crockett on some of the misuses of her own research.

Topped your tan up? Don’t go shopping!

It’s been a beautiful sunny day today, something rather rare since Christmas in my particular part of the world. Fortunately, we had an early start today and got the weekly grocery shopping done much quicker than normal because, as might be predicted, the sun brought out a lot of shoppers and both the car park and the roads generally began to fill up as we headed back home for lunch. There does seem to be something about a touch of warmer weather that makes many of us want to head to the shops, but what’s gong on here?

Retailers have long known that nice weather often correlates with an increase in trade, but the cause is sometimes not all that clear. Is it the nice weather in general that’s making us hit the malls? Is it the temperature or the sunshine itself, perhaps? Or is it maybe more the fact that good weather puts us in a good mood?

As we might expected when it comes to psychology, there isn’t a simple answer to these questions. In reality, it is probably a combination of all of these things and many more besides. Having said that, however, we have made good progress in terms of understanding what the main ingredient in this process is. One of the best papers in this area is the study by Kyle Murray and his colleagues, involving some quite innovative measures captured over a series of well-designed studies.

In their first study, the researchers looked at a whole range of weather variables (snow, sunshine, rainfall, humidity, etc.) and correlated them with consumer spending. Sunshine was found to be associated with  a significant increase in consumer spending in general, but the effect was most pronounced when the temperature itself was low. In another study, Murray et al found that sunlight was again the most salient weather-related factor that reduced negative mood-states, producing a subsequent increase in spending. And in their final study, they found that this effect was not confined to natural sunlight, it also happens (sometimes more that normal, depending on duration of exposure) when consumers have simply been using a sunbed. And for me, the most interesting common result amongst all of these studies was the increase not just in spending, but in actual willingness-to-pay (WTP).

So what do all these results tell us? Well, it seems that sunshine is the most important weather-related factor when it comes to increasing our desire to spend, even more so if the temperature itself is relatively cool. The sunlight seems to be exerting its influence via a positive effect it has on our mood states. We need to be very careful not to get carried away, however, as sunlight doesn’t simply increase spending, it also increases the price we are actually willing to pay for the goods we buy!

I suspect those running tanning salons have known all this for a long time. That’s why they offer you those expensive designer products to buy after you’ve been on the sunbed – you’re much more likely to buy and you’ll be willing to pay a higher price for the products available, too. And if you’re a consumer prone to visiting one of these salons, my advice is to never do this before heading off to a mall, especially in cold weather – if you do, you’ll buy more and accept higher prices throughout your shopping trip. Best wait until you get back before topping that tan up, eh?