Thursday, July 19, 2012


One of the largest marketing strategies of this century has been to down size the contents of a food package without the consumer ever aware of the same. If a standard package of potato chips containing 200 gm of product is converted into a newly designed packaging pouch with 20 gm less chips it is unlikely that any busy bee consumer will ever notice it. Added to this confusion if the contents are declared with odd weight parameters, the chances of the consumer finding out are still less. To day most food manufacturers world over have adopted this strategy very successfully with their food packs containing about 15-20% less products compared to that two years ago and the price line is maintained to preserve the image of the industry as one beating inflation! Computer design of packages is a rewarding business because the potential for cheating the human brain is enormous. According to knowledgeable psychologists human brain is supposed to be weak in geometry incapable of assessing sizes of containers and the contents held by them. If this is so can there be a solution that can remedy the situation? Probably no because food consumers invariably make mechanical decisions regarding purchases without paying much attention to the label declaration where, at least in the US most manufacturers include the price per unit weight for easy comparison of prices of different competitors. Here is an interesting expose' on the subject of gullibility of human brain.    

"Recently, Pierre Chandon, a French marketing professor and visiting Harvard Business School scholar, decided to test the idea that consumers know what's best for them. He asked 294 people to estimate — using photos of a 6.5-ounce bottle (the standard for decades), a 12-ounce can or a 12-ounce cup as benchmarks — how much liquid was in a range of cups, starting at 12 ounces all the way up to a 50-ounce "Double Gulp." While it sounds simple, respondents consistently guessed wrong, assuming that the larger cups held about 20 percent to 40 percent less liquid than they actually did. Dozens of other studies, using jelly beans, popcorn, ice cream and alcoholic drinks, have also shown that consumers can't be depended on to perceive serving sizes accurately. The reason comes down to the fact that the human brain has a surprisingly tough time with geometry and often can't accurately gauge when an object has doubled or even tripled in size. It's even trickier when the object is a wide-mouth cup, larger on the top than the bottom. "We tend to underestimate the increase in the size of any object," said Professor Chandon, director of the Insead Social Science Research Center in Paris. "When you double the size of something, it really looks just 50 to 70 percent bigger, not twice as big."

In India there was a time when manufacturers were allowed to market only in certain sizes stipulated under weights and measures regulations but this was relaxed with the provision that odd sizes can be offered after declaring in small print on the label that it is not a standard size! The result is that practically all manufacturers started packing consumer products in odd sizes, volumes and measures putting the buyers in great disadvantage. Fortunately this policy is now being reversed but there is still no provision for printing rate per unit which ought to have been insisted upon. This human weakness is the basis of policy decisions by some governments in limiting sale of high sugar beverages to less than a certain size to discourage indiscriminate consumption of such high energy products which have the potential to cause over weight and obesity. Here is a basis for putting reasonable restrictions on the industry so that the perceived brain inadequacy to select what is really required, is addressed.  


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