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Marketing to the Senses, Driving Engagement Through Food Imagery

By Walnut Unlimited

The perpetual challenge facing advertising professionals is how to form emotional bonds between brands and consumers. Nowhere is this more true than the world of food marketing. Neuroscience has taught us that when we see an image of food, it’s not just visual processing areas of the brain that become activated but other sensory areas are also stimulated. This has led to the term ”gastro-porn” to refer to the power of food imagery on our brains. But what makes a particular shot of food more delicious than another? And how can branding be effectively built into the story? By combining neuroscience into the process, we can provide a framework for creativity, to validate intuition and create the recipe for success.

In this research, we tested two recent TV advertising campaigns shown in the UK for food and drinks brands Lurpak and Budweiser. Our aim was to understand how emotionally engaging advertising with food can be and what we can learn about communications involving food.

The use of consumer neuroscience tools was perfectly suited to this type of research as it allowed us to understand the emotional reactions of consumers whilst watching adverts containing food imagery. Using Electroencephalogram (EEG) and Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) measures we were able to capture the emotional reactions of participants. EEG provides a measure of emotional engagement, to understand if what is presented on screen is personally relevant to viewers, are they engaged by what they are seeing? Whilst GSR provides a measure of activation - are they excited and driven to action by what is shown?

The research took place at a central location in the UK. Participants were recruited to take part in a 20-minute research study during which they would watch eight different TV adverts whilst wearing an EEG headset and GSR device to measure their sub-second by second reactions to the adverts. The two test adverts used for this research were Budweiser’s 2015 - The original power couple and Lurpak’s 2015 Freestyle adverts as both have a strong focus on food throughout the adverts.

We were particularly interested to understand how our brains respond to food advertising and specific insights we can gather about the types of shot that are more engaging for viewers and the role of branding. The Budweiser original power couple advert pairs a pint of Budweiser beer alongside a burger. For men, we clearly saw this marriage of beers and burgers was engaging for the brain. The more natural/visceral images that incorporated other sensory cues like sound, such as the pouring of a pint (3) and the burger sizzling on the fryer (2) showed the biggest positive reactions compared with more static food and drink visuals (1&4).

This is also true of the brand imagery, when presented in isolation at the start of the advert there is a decline in engagement and no activation (1), equally, towards the end of the advert when the branded beer is placed next to a pristine looking burger, we again see a decline in engagement and a lack of activation towards this static ”beauty” shot of the perfect burger and beer combination (4). However, positive reactions were seen for the natural scenes that form part of the story arc of the advert (3&5).

Lurpak’s freestyle advert sees an artistic and colorful display bursting with movement, as food is chopped, cooked, drizzled and then devoured to a fast-paced soundtrack. There were peaks in engagement as the butter is scooped out of the tub (1) salt falling onto an egg (2) and visceral scenes as the freshly prepared sandwich is bitten into (3). Throughout the advert the brand is integral to the story and plays an active role (rather than a passive one that is so often the case) as a key ingredient in this ensemble of food. As a result, the highest peak in engagement is seen in the closing scenes of the advert including brand imagery and message (4).

This research gave three key insights:

  1. Food and drinks often show ”beauty” images of food and steer clear of how people actually eat – but from these adverts we’ve seen the best route may be to use more natural/visceral imagery, driving relevance in the brain to the product and the brand!

  2. Incorporating sensory cues beyond the visual representation of food such as sound and motion can produce stronger emotional reactions creating a more memorable interaction with the brand.

  3. Integrating the brand into the preparation of the food helps produce the most engaging adverts that drive us to action, which Lurpak has done so well here.

The power of food imagery is a great example of cross modal processing. Food is not just experienced through a sense of taste. Everything in the brain – including brands and food products – is represented through a network of associations and memory structures which include and are influenced by all our senses. Food marketing should look to appeal to all of the senses as when we see or experience something these pathways light up, and the more senses are stimulated, the more memorable any interaction.

Walnut Unlimited
Contact: Becky Hutchins

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today