Marketing and manipulation: How susceptible are you?!

Imagine Megan Fox biting into an apple. The skin breaks and the juices pour onto her mouth, a single drop reaches her chin. She licks her lips, her tongue lingering as she savours the sweet, succulent taste.

Now, imagine if more time was spent setting up this scenario, followed by an ‘unrelated’ question “How much do you like apple mac computers?”. According to science, it’s guaranteed you will rate them more highly than without being told how much Megan Fox enjoys apples.

So, just as your mind has been manipulated, marketing plays on how predictably the human mind can be influenced, in view to selling products. In this case, the language used to depict Megan Fox and her juicy apple is associated with sex.

Sex sells. Marketing campaigns with references to sex engage the pleasurable reward centre of the brain, so it’s not difficult to see how priming people with sex is incredibly effective. However, sex is not the only subconscious influence to take hold of our behaviour. Be it our addiction to Starbucks coffees, an uncontrollable urge for McDonald’s, or simply a fear to branch away from branded items; all are unknowingly provoked by scientific advances in marketing strategies.

Take the example of Coca-Cola. It tastes better than Pepsi, right? Yet, can you really be sure that the effectiveness of Coca-Cola’s campaign isn’t manipulating your preference?

These days, scientists use brain imaging methods to examine how our brains respond to brands – such as Coke versus Pepsi. Participants were given two taste tests – one blind and the other clearly labelled Coke or Pepsi. When participants were unaware of the brand, the pleasure centre of the brain was active as they drank Pepsi. However, when they knew which was which, the area of the brain associated with memory and emotion was active—this time in favour of Coke. This shows us that although people really enjoy the taste of Pepsi, the emotional connection and nostalgia associated with Coca-Cola’s brand—driven by extremely effective advertising—creates a preference for Coke.

Remember when our names started to appear on Coke bottles? This personal marketing ploy generated a significant increase in sales. The company’s television ads are orientated around everything a person would want to be; sociable, fun and free. As consumers, we are largely motivated by what makes us feel good, so it’s not surprising we subconsciously succumb to a bottle of Coke every now and then.

KitKat’s are arguably the most popular chocolate bar in the world. But is this really down to how it tastes? Or could it be that whether at home, school, or in the workplace, we “have a break, have a KitKat”. This tagline quickly became ingrained in the public’s mind, becoming one of the most successful brand slogans in history.  Needless to say, 60 years down the line and the marketing strategy continues to have a profound effect.

A slightly more laughable strategy is that used by the junk-food company, Frito-Lay. This junk-food giant, responsible for the sales of Cheetos, decided to hire a neuromarketing firm to investigate how we respond to these cheesy puffs.

But can you guess the selling point of these products? The pattern of brain activity concluded that consumers responded strongly to the messiness of the Cheetos. These cheesy puffs turn our fingers orange with residual cheese dust, but who knew that this is what keeps us coming back for more? Frito-Lay subsequently launched an award-winning campaign targeted at our love of cheesy mess. Unsurprisingly, sales soared.

Whether it’s the obvious use of sex appeal, celebrity endorsement, or the catchiness of a jingle that makes us pause when we come across a KitKat or McDonalds, we remain naïve to campaigns tapping into our subconscious desires. As human beings, we can’t help but gravitate towards familiar phrases and symbols. It’s not surprising the marketing industry has learned to exploit the predictability of our behaviour.

So what can we do? We can be aware. Well-informed consumers are less likely to form irrational judgments, are more likely to make more deliberate and healthy decisions, and even save money by not succumbing to branded products. Next time you find yourself wandering into a high-end supermarket or a chain coffee shop, take a moment to question your motives. Are you there because you genuinely prefer these products, or have you, too, been unknowingly influenced by brand identity?

Maybe you’ll never know.

2017’s Most Ridiculous Food & Diet Trends in Order of Ridiculousness

As the marketing industry is taking hold of our modern health-conscious minds, new food and diet trends are continuing to emerge.  Whilst some are backed by a wealth of evidence, others rely on celebrity endorsement, manipulative wording and consumer naivety.  Don’t let them fool you…

1. The rise of superfoods

As consumers, we are constantly being told certain ‘super’ foods are able to aid weight loss, boost our physical activity and even slow the ageing process.

The question is, what exactly distinguishes a superfood from the mundane kind, and do any of their claims hold true?

It seems that the properties necessary to define a food as ‘super’ are the number of antioxidants present.  Antioxidants are substances that fight free-radicals in the body, and are incredibly important as too many free-radicals can damage cells, causing illnesses such as cancer. Popular superfoods include blueberries, chia seeds and golgi berries.  The more exotic they sound, the easier it is to market these foods as having extraordinary properties.

The catch: when healthy, our bodies are incredibly efficient at fighting free-radicals.  Therefore, shoveling spoonful’s of chia seeds onto our porridge or always opting for a turmeric latte will not enhance our bodies ability to fight these substances.

As is the case with supplements, if we do not require them, then they shall pass through our system bearing no purpose, our body remaining naïve to our enthusiastic efforts.

2. Detoxing the body with tea

From brushing our teeth with charcoal to buying into the never-ending emergence of detox teas, it’s amazing how effective celebrity endorsement can be. 

Unfortunately, only organs such as the liver, through a complex series of biochemical reactions, can detox the body.  Tea does not share this ability.  Only through a balanced intake of food through our diet can we aid this detoxifying process.  What tea does do is increase the rate we go to the toilet. The laxative properties can even be harmful if symptoms persist – with a risk of dehydration.

The only positive that can be drawn from detox teas is the effect they have on the mind.  When someone kick-starts their day with a health-conscious decision such as ‘attempting’ to detox their body and become a healthier version of themselves, is this necessarily a bad thing?

Health conscious decisions made first thing in the morning are likely to guide our behaviour throughout the day, so if drinking detox tea’s help you cut out foods high in saturated fat and sugar, then go for it.

However, if you don’t fancy spending an extra £25 a month on tea, opt for water and lemon, or challenge yourself simply by doubling the amount of water you drink in the morning.

3. The juicing / smoothie trend

Although juicing is a quick and easy way to consume fruit and veg alongside the ‘nutritional value,’ there are a few things you need to know before you begin to juice the entire fruit bowl.

The main issue: once fruit is blended, the sugar is no longer confined and seeps out of the cell, becoming more readily available to the human body when consumed.  What this means is that although a whole banana poses no threat whatsoever to our sugar levels, one cannot say the same about the blended kind.

Of course, a single blended banana won’t do any harm.  However, when juicing we tend to be less mindful of what goes into it.  We rarely eat a whole apple, banana and strawberries in one serving, and we’d be pretty full if we did.  But when juiced, we don’t think about what we’re drinking, let alone the sugar content.

Whilst whole fruits are not only a more balanced form of snack, they’ll fill you up for longer too! However, the ease and popularity of smoothies can’t be denied, so if you do jump on the bandwagon, be sure to incorporate veg into them too.

4. Dairy-free alternatives

Alongside the rise of veganism, demand for dairy-free alternatives to milk, yogurt and even cheese is rapidly increasing.  Coffee shops and supermarkets have responded by provided endless alternatives.  However, when we take a closer look at these substitutes, convincing yourself dairy is the enemy may not be the best idea.

Although nuts may be a great addition to a healthy diet (and packed full of protein); the milk itself is inferior.  Not only do nut milks contain nearly 5 times less protein than cow’s milk, extra sugar is often added to enhance its taste.

When opting for whole milk or semi-skimmed in your morning latte, the sugar tends to be naturally occurring.  The same can’t be said for oat, almond or soya milk, with coconut milk coming out on top in terms of added sugar.

It remains that full-fat and even semi-skimmed cow’s milk have a higher caloric content (compared with all alternatives).  Yet, nutritionally speaking – there is no contest – the carbohydrate, protein and fat content in cow’s milk provide us with an extremely balanced start to the day.  Whether sprinkled on our cornflakes or drizzled over expresso, we have a clear winner.

A contradictory conclusion

Now to contradict myself.  Any decision you make or intention you create to become a healthier version of yourself is half the battle.  Whether it’s to increase your intake of ‘superfoods’ or to swap dairy for soya products, you’ve still managed to carry out this change.  And this is not a bad thing; it’s simply about knowing the right decisions to make.

As this is the millionth article on the internet now ‘busting’ health myths, 2018 is likely to bring to light the amount of fad diets and false information being promoted to the public.

And once we’re aware of these fad’s, the marketing industry is going to find it harder and harder to deceive us. Good luck to them.