Friday, May 11, 2012

Green is for NO! Snickers' nutrition labels

Nutrition information on packaged foods indicating, for instance, caloric content is legally enforced in the United States and also in Europe there are only a few exceptions (I don't know about regulations in other parts of the world, so please leave a comment if you do so). What has been an issue, however, and one that has been debated for a long time, is the exact form these labels should have. What information should be present? In which format should it be presented? Where should the information be? There are still a number of degrees of freedom pertaining to these choices. In the USA, food manufacturers decided themselves to put the labels on the front of the packages. Being in the States at the moment, one of these front-of-pack labels caught my attention. It is the attention-grabbing green label on the Snickers bars. And I have ambivalent thoughts about it...

Example of a US Snickers calories label (originally featured on John B. Mahaffie's Blog)
On the one hand, green is for "go!"
Color marketing is a big business and it is based on the idea that people have all kinds of associations linked with colors. Some of these associations are even institutionalized as a symbol. For instance, green is a worldwide signal in traffic for "GO", whereas red signifies "NO" or "Stop". In food associations, green has also been linked in more recent years to "bio", or "organic" or even "healthy". Interestingly, researchers have shown (see e.g., a review by Chernev) that more healthy foods are often seen as less tasty. This would imply that the bright green label on the Snickers bar would result in people expecting the product to be less tasty. At the same time, seeing the bright label while not actually reading it (something most consumers are inclined to do) would also imply that one expects a lower caloric density in the product. This reasoning suggests that the logo used on the Snickers is actually misleading potential consumers.

On the other hand, green is for "no!"
One cannot deny that the bright green label clearly stands out relative to the rest of the Snickers wrapper. As a matter of fact, in color theory it is almost the complement of the other dominant colors in the wrapper. This could invoke a different cognitive process, attracting people's attention to the label and thus triggering health goals. This argument has been articulated previously by others (e.g. http://foresightculture.com/2009/07/11/a-trend-toward-corporate-honesty) and suggests that the Mars company and the Snickers brand are actually helping consumers make the healthy decisions.

Only one way to find out: an experiment
So, I did a small study aiming to test which of the above is correct. Does the green make us think the Snickers is more tasteful? And how much does one think that Snickers would satisfy the appetite (i.e. anticipated fullness after eating the candy bar)?
Some participants saw an original US Snickers bar (in other parts of the world the design is different; e.g. in Europe the label is at the back and does not have the bright green). Others saw a modified wrapper with the label in a shade of red that matches the logo's shade of red.
Snickers with GREEN label
Snickers with RED label
Results: I will discuss the results in full in an academic paper, but to summarize: "green is for no!"

Apparently, Snickers did a good job in designing the visually highly contrastive warning label because people anticipate the candy bar to be much more "filling" (also compared to their current hunger level). There is one drawback, however. For those participants that did respond in that way, the bar also seemed more tasty.

2 comments:

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