A marketer walks into a bridal show…

I decided to venture into the New Orleans Bride Magazine’s Bridal Show to see how truly crazy a bridal show really is. And I wasn’t disappointed.

As a bride-to-be, and someone who is fascinated by all types of marketing, I decided to venture into the New Orleans Bride Magazine’s Bridal Show to see how truly crazy a bridal show really is. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The main irony of the show for me was having to pay to go; I paid $20 to wander around and let people try to sell things to me. Where else does this happen without any other content? I can’t think of any examples, but not only did most brides pay it, they brought their whole entourage with them, and they each paid as well. They must know something I don’t know, right?

Once I got past that, I arrived at the event, checked-in, and was promptly adorned by a smiling staff member with a “Bride” sticker.  Ah, so now they can tell who the ultimate decision maker is, interesting. Unless you’re a bride, of course. With the bride sticker on, I felt like a deer wandering into a hunter’s camp. They now knew exactly who to target.

A woman's left chest and shoulder with a hot pink round sticker that says, "Bride" attached to her purple shirt.
This sticker apparently says, “Hi, sell me everything.”

“Bride” sticker target correctly fixed to my shoulder, I got my “goodie” bag and free drink ticket, and walked into the show.  This is the first of two price justification or sunk cost cognitive points, as you as a bride can always try to justify going to these by saying, “Oh, I’ll get a bunch of goodies, which makes up for paying $20 entry fee,” right? Well, you could, but as with most “goodie” bags, it was filled with literature vs. things you’d want, so the justification falls flat quickly. I did pick-up a few fun things on the way, but they most certainly didn’t add-up to $20.

A photo of a bright pink bridal show bag, two cookies, bride and groom koozies, a flipbook, and a huge pile of literature for various magazines, wedding venues, etc.
Bridal show “goodie” bad. Note that the food, koozies, and flipbook weren’t in the bag, I picked-those up at stops at the show. So, the bag was mostly literature.

 

And off I go, into a sea of vendors physically pulling me into their booths, clipboards being shoved into my hands to fill-out for prizes, and calls to try free samples of food and cake.  This is the second of two price justification or sunk cost cognitive points, as you as a bride can always try to justify going to these by saying, “I’ll get dinner out of this.” Which is true, you could get dinner, but the irony of eating at these events is that a good amount of brides are trying to lose weight and the samples are definitely not healthy or going to help with that.  Also, taking their food triggers a feeling of reciprocity; if you are eating their food, there’s a good chance you’ll feel obligated to listen to them, fill out their form, etc.

Photo of buffet table of free food at a bridal show
Plenty of (unhealthy) food at the event, which is ironic if you think about brides wanting to lose weight.

I ate dinner ahead of time, so I avoided the calorie-bomb food, but took full advantage of the “prize” sign-ups as I was curious how many of these would follow-up with me after the show and, hey, if I won a prize, that’d be cool too. Unfortunately for the show organizers, I kept track of what prizes I signed-up for and what vendors I gave my name to, which lead me to shock #1: they’d clearly given (cough, sold) my contact information to all of the vendors there, as many vendors that I hadn’t given my information to contacted me.

Shock #2 was the predatory nature of some of the vendors. Two of the vendors that contacted me appeared to be high pressure cookware sales companies. They offer you a big prize (such as a free vacation) and knife for coming to a “cooking demonstration.” Now I love to see my experiments through to the end, but they required me to bring my fiancé along, and that’s just too much suffering on his part for me. So vague company names and details, too high priced of giveaways, and reading horror stories online from other brides will have to suffice as evidence that the companies are high pressure sales situations, similar to timeshares.

Was it an awful time? The above might seem that way, but I had fun; it was interesting to see some of the interesting products out there, such as a cake make entirely of cheese from St. James Cheese Company and a Flipbook from Funtastic Fotos. And, it’s fascinating to break down the bridal show business model, as a marketer and a bride, and see the various elements of it.

A stack of continually smaller cheese rounds and squares to make cheese look like a "cake"
St. James Cheese Company’s creative “Cheese cakes” with cheese samples.

 

Tips for brides going to a bridal show:

  • Enjoy it for what it is.
  • You don’t have to wear the bride sticker.
  • Stick to local, small business vendors.
  • Ask how you can remove your contact information from the list provided to vendors.
  • Think about what you want to accomplish before you go, do you want to find more options for your venue? Do you want to find fun gifts for your groomsmen? Then only go visit those vendors.
  • Eat a meal before you go. Not only will your waistline thank you, but you won’t be drawn into conversations with vendors you don’t want to because you’re grabbing their food.
  • Smile and say “no thank you” you if you aren’t interested.
  • Only claim prizes if it doesn’t mean you have to do something else. Giving them your address of whatever they need for tax purposes is one thing, having to attend another event to “claim” your prize is a red flag that it’s a high pressure sales situation.

 

 

 

“Mindless Eating” book provides helpful insights into food marketing/research

in reading the book, I found it was also a very helpful guide to many of the food marketing tactics that we see used today. I’ve provided some examples below.

I originally picked-up Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, to learn more about ways I could positively impact my personal diet. But, in reading the book, I found it was also a very helpful guide to many of the food marketing tactics that we see used today. I’ve provided some examples below.

He discusses anchoring in terms of calories:

If you ask people if there are more or less than 50 calories in an apple, most will say more. When you ask them how many, the average person will say, “66.” If you had instead asked if there were more or less than 150 calories in an apple, most would say less. When you ask them how many, the average person would say, “114.” People unknowingly anchor or focus on the number they first hear and let that bias them. Kindle location 329

How packaging impacts our choices:

The bottom line: We all consume more from big packages, whatever the product. Kindle location 810

…they could cut the size of their meat and cheese in half, and as long as they added enough garden greens to make the hamburger look just as big, they’d feel as full as if they’d eaten the real deal. Kindle location 614

The power of timing:

At one point in the 1980s, Campbell’s developed a series of commercials for radio stations called “storm spots.”25 These radio ads referred to the rain and pointed out that soup is a cozy, warm, comfort food; that it goes so well with sandwiches that are easy to make; and that—not coincidently—the listener probably happens to have a number of cans of Campbell’s soup in the cupboard right at this minute. Radio stations were instructed that if it were raining or storming between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M., they should play these radio ads. The expectation was that people would dutifully eat their soup and buy more the next time they went to the store. Kindle location 1499

The power of smell:

Smell is big business. There are companies that exist solely because they can infuse (the word they oddly use is “impregnate”) odors into plastics. This is because odor can’t reliably be infused into food. Sometimes it doesn’t last; at other times it changes the shelf stability of the food itself. But if you infuse the odor into packaging, it’s a different story. Some day you might heat up your frozen microwavable apple pie and smell the rich apple pie aroma. Even if it’s the container that you’re smelling, you’re primed to enjoy that apple pie even before you put your fork in. Kindle location 1440

Expectation Assimilation and Confirmation Bias:

Psychologists call this “expectation assimilation” and “confirmation bias.” In the case of food, it means that our taste buds are biased by our imagination. Basically, if you expect a food to taste good, it will. At the very least, it will taste better than if you had thought it would only be so-so. Kindle location 1567

Consider two pieces of day-old chocolate cake. If one is named “chocolate cake,” and the other is named “Belgian Black Forest Double Chocolate Cake,” people will buy the second. That’s no surprise. What’s more interesting is that after trying it, people will rate it as tasting better than an identical piece of “plain old cake.” It doesn’t even matter that the Black Forest is not in Belgium. Kindle location 1604

…foods with descriptive names sold 27 percent more. And even though they were priced exactly the same, the customers who ate them consistently rated them as a better value than did the people who ate the same dishes with the boring old names. Kindle location 1636

And much, much more. If you are interested in learning about food marketing and research as well as learning about realistic ways to control your weight and eat healthy, I highly recommend this book.

What should we do about it? Our consumer and marketing response to the new documentary on sugar, “Fed Up”

I recently saw Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig’s new food documentary, Fed Up an I completely agree on the message of it; we are too dependent on sugar in this country. We put it in everything, bread, yogurt, everything.

My concern is how we as consumers and marketers will respond to this.

Scapegoating

The first that I hope we don’t do this time around is scapegoating. Yes, the amount of processed sugar we eat is contributing to our poor health an it should be controlled better, but it’s one of many factors, including lack of exercise, eating too many meals away from home, sodium intake, etc.

King of the Hill did an episode a while ago titled “Trans-Facism.” In it, Bill cuts out all trans-fats, but continues to eat terribly. The gag is, he was gaining weight and couldn’t figure out why. The episode really points out the problems with scapegoating one aspect of our food; we don’t get healthier.

Substituting

Ladies and gentleman, let’s not forget how the sugar got there in the first place; it got there because we made the food companies remove trans-fats, so they added sugar. If Fed Up really takes off, we should expect to see a wave of food marketers trying to capitalize on the fad with a wave of sugar-free products (most of which, by the way are really “no sugar added” not sugar-free). But again, this isn’t where the issue lies, the issue doesn’t lie in eating sugar-free cookies (which probably have the sugar replaced with chemicals anyway, making them actually less healthy), but the fact that we need to cut down on cookies.

I’m recommending our food marketing response be to take-out the excess sugar and go to a no-sugar added model. No-sugar added bread, no-sugar added crackers, no-sugar added yogurt. This will still accomplish the goal of selling more, but in a productive-for-our-society way. As consumers, I’m recommending we take a good hard look at what we can do, including reducing our sugar intake, to improve our health.

Article reveals the tricks of food marketing

A second-story photograph view of a supermarket
From flickr NNECAPA

If you’ve ever been curious about the inner-workings of food marketing, I highly recommend this article, Supersize v undersize: food portions and obesity. As someone who interned in food marketing and took a couple of courses related to the subject in college, this article does a great job at pointing out some of the tricks of food marketing including increasing package size, making portion sizes confusing, raising prices right before a “buy one get one free” offer, etc. When it comes to food, it’s definitely buyer beware and eater beware!