Sell Me This Cake

2023 is now in full swing and I can’t help but think how much food, in particular cake, I shamelessly consumed during the holiday season. As I sheepishly glanced at my health-conscious New Year’s resolutions stuck on my fridge, it got me thinking, what made me buy the cake in the first place? 

Yes I know, the delicious taste is an obvious reason, but besides taste, the marketer in me was thinking if there was a psychological component that made me gravitate towards the calorie-induced cake over a healthier alternative?

I decided to do some digging and discovered an interesting research piece done by two professors at the University of Utah, Arul Mishral & Himanshu Mishra.

Let’s dive a little deeper and see what it could mean for your ad campaigns.

Here’s Your Bonus Prize!

So what did Arul Mishral & Himanshu Mishra discover? Well, it’s actually broken down into two parts.

First, the professors found that when marketing healthy foods, offering a bundle or some sort of bonus pack is much more effective in getting the consumer to make a purchase. Think broccoli, protein bars, organic brown rice, non-fat yogurt, granola bars…I mean, the list goes on and I’m sure you get the picture.

So the question persists; why are bundles and bonus packs effective? As with all things marketing, it boils down to a funny little thing called psychology. 

When it comes to healthy foods, consumers can eat whatever they please, guilt-free, so they have the freedom (without judgment) to eat more and more of it. As a result, marketing healthy foods with a bundle or with a bonus pack can be very compelling for someone.

I know what you’re thinking — broccoli, protein bars, brown rice, what does any of this have to do with you buying and then bingeing on cake?

Well, that’s covered in part two…

Diet Starts Monday

When it comes to unhealthy foods, like cake or chocolate, consumers prefer price discounts over a bundle or bonus packs. This seems strange, right? I mean, I’d pick a big pack of mozzarella sticks over carrot sticks any day!

Again, it comes down to the human psyche. People want to feel good and not guilty, so when they engage in a guilty act, like eating an entire pizza, they need a justification for doing so. 

For instance, research by Erica Okada has shown how people are more likely to choose an indulgent product or service after undertaking an altruistic act (e.g. celebratory drinks after big day volunteering). So when it comes to price discounts, the discount itself serves as sufficient justification for purchasing unhealthy foods.

This is what happened to me; I saw the cake, it was on sale, I didn’t want to miss out on the savings, and I psychologically created a justification to make the purchase. Before you know it, it’s Christmas and there’s nothing but cake in my kitchen!

So…What Does This Mean For Me?

I hope by now you realize that this is not just about cake or food. There are concepts in their research that you can apply to your own products and services.

Key takeaways:

  • Promote bonuses if your product or service is utilitarian — People love the freedom to do/have/consume more guilt-free, so a campaign with a bundle/bonus is much more effective 
  • Provide a justification if your product or service is hedonic — People love to have fun, and they are more likely to have fun if the situation allows them to justify it. Give them a reason to call.

Assess your own products and services, and model your promotions respectively around the categories they fall into. I don’t know about you but all this food talk is making me hungry…