Negative messages are more effective

(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers studying the role of labels in the perception of food taste and quality have concluded that negative messages have a greater impact than positive ones, with the latter having a tangible but much smaller effect.

According to a new study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, the findings more or less confirm pre-existing beliefs about the power of negative messages. However, these results seem to point to an innate bias towards negative information, even when choosing common foods such as cookies and crackers.

Most entry-level marketers can tell you that negative messages are almost always more powerful than positive ones. It dominates politics and is almost as ubiquitous in sports and entertainment reporting.

Now, a new study has shown that the taste and perceived quality of cookies and crackers may suffer the same fate, making negative messages stronger than any positive comments about the product.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers recruited 120 volunteers aged 18 to 70. Each volunteer was asked to rate three separate trays of biscuits and crackers for taste, crunchiness, and other quality attributes to determine which one they preferred.

Unknown to the participants, each tray actually contained cookies and crackers from the same package, meaning they were more or less identical to the others. However, three of the trays had separate labels.

The first tray was labeled “New and Improved”, the second tray was labeled “Typical Factory”, and the third tray was labeled “Customer Complaint”.

The subjects were told that these labels meant that the middle variant was the manufacturer’s typical variant, the first variant was the “new and improved” recipe, and the third variant was the failed trial recipe that consumers complained about.

Not surprisingly, the “new and improved” cookies and crackers scored higher than the rest. However, the greatest effect was obtained from the “consumer complaints” group, which was rated significantly lower than the other two groups in terms of overall taste and quality.

“When using a negative contextual message, more negative attributes were selected – people didn’t like the cookies as much, they weren’t as fresh.

People had a more negative opinion of them,” said study lead author Christopher Simons, assistant professor of food science and technology at the University. Ohio State, in a press release announcing the results of the work. “The positive messages were more positive, but not to the same extent.”

“We had both negative and positive biases, but the negative biases were much stronger,” Simons added. “This negative context had a bigger impact on the rankings than the words ‘new and improved’.”

In general, according to the researchers, the degree of influence of the negative and positive context was much greater than expected.

“On the one hand, it’s not surprising,” Simons said. “On the other hand, the degree of influence was really amazing.”

As for the way forward, the team says results of this nature may better inform product planners, especially efforts to reduce negative attitudes towards a product or service before it hits the market. This is especially true, says Simons, since “roughly 70-80% of new food products fail, even if consumer testing has shown they should succeed.”

“One thing that really interests my lab is trying to better understand and predict consumer behavior,” Simons said. “Currently, companies are using people as a tool to better understand the sensory properties of products and how they evoke liking.

We are trying to understand our tool in order to create a better tool that will help reduce product failures and help companies produce products that people really need.”


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