One marketing tactic the food industry uses to influence what we buy is color. (And no, it's not just the food industry doing it.)

  • Red means stop and pay attention,
  • black can mean high quality,
  • white is purity
  • and now green means natural.

It's enough to confuse even the most careful shopper.

A recent experiment had volunteers look at a picture of a candy bar. Some looked at a picture of a bar with a red label and some looked at a bar with a green label. Then they were asked how healthy they thought it was compared to other candy bars. More people thought the bar with the green label was more healthy, even though everything was identical except the color of the label.

Then they added a twist to the experiment - same pictures of candy bars, but this time the label was either green or white and the volunteers were asked to rate how important healthfulness was in their food buying decisions. Volunteers who didn't place much value on eating healthfully, rated both bars about the same. But volunteers who did care about healthy eating rated the bar with the green label considerably higher. Again, the only difference was the color of the label.

Was the difference because the healthy eaters thought the green label meant the candy bar was more natural? It's important to pay attention when you're shopping.

Did you know grocery stores have been using similar tactics for years? Aisles are just wide enough for two carts to pass each other. You not only have to slow down to pass, but stop entirely when one cart is in the middle or when a third shopper comes by. Marketers know when you get someone to slow down or stop there's a better chance they might see something else they might want to buy.

Casinos do the same thing. Twist and turn through the narrow aisles between the machines and you might decide to spend more money.

There are also the end caps - the shelves at the end of each aisle in the grocery store. Do you think they're highlighting that week's specials? Sometimes. But marketers know you have to walk by the end caps every time you turn the corner AND when you're walking along the front or back of the store.

Prime real estate!

So, yes, they'll put some specials there because shoppers expect sales, but mostly they're going to put the high margin items there knowing shoppers might think they're on sale and buy more.

Along the aisles, the things they want you to buy are clustered about 5 feet above the floor. Marketers know that's about eye level for most shoppers and its easier for shoppers to notice products at that height. A different brand of the same product - just as good - might be placed higher or lower, making you do a little more work to choose it. Worth checking out though because you might just find a better deal.

Kid's products are an exception. I bet you'll find the priciest and most enticing kid's products clustered about 2 to 3 feet off the ground.

Here comes mom, toddler in tow, and what does he spot? That brightly colored, must-have toy or what-not. Think mom's going to get out of the store without buying it? Well if she doesn't buy it, I'll bet people a block away will hear what her toddler thinks about that!

How can you use some of these tactics to manipulate - um, 'encourage' - your customers to buy more?

Read more about the experiment.

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