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How Well Do Food Brands Know You? (Hint: Really, Really, Really Well)

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If we can learn anything from Tuesday's failure of California's Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, it's that food brands are experts in knowing which buttons to push in their customers. And if you don't think that's the case, take a look at some recent examples of just what lengths marketers will go to sell you their products.

I recently reported on a story first featured in Forbes magazine that showed a distinct connection between emotions and food. Researcher Dr. Alan Hirsch identified certain personality types based on snack preferences: potato chip eaters are successful while beef jerky eaters tend to be more loyal, for example. The connection, Hirsch suggests, has to do with the part of the brain that processes smell and taste as well as emotion.

Identifying the types of personalities that gravitate towards certain foods is a huge boon to processed food marketing efforts. If pretzel eaters love the abstract, you can bet that pretzel ads will indulge that audience. We see it all the time in food advertisements—beer drinking men like commercials with next-to-naked women in them, kids like cartoon characters to hook them on sugary cereals.

From the Organic Authority Files

Marketing is an historically confouding industry that only seems to be getting weirder. Despite the fact that most Americans now have daily access to computers, which supplies them with the opportunity to research brands and products at their convenience—even while shopping—marketers still offer up dishonest claims even within the natural foods industry, which is often viewed as panacea to the big mega-brands dominating mainstream supermarkets.

Several weeks ago in Paris, researchers from the Institute of Environmental Medicine and the Institute of NeuroCognitivism revealed what they claim are several key personality types that directly affect our purchasing decisions. According to the researchers, Jean-Louis Prata and Christine Menard, there are eight personality types that influence how we shop: the philosopher, the innovator, the facilitator, the manager, the strategist, the team member, the competitor and the interdependent. Any individual can exhibit any number of these personalities, says Prata and Menard, influencing their purchasing decisions on a number of levels including behaving in ways they believe conform to society's expectations.

While this information would seem to be incredibly valuable to consumers in order to help them better understand how and why they spend their money, the researchers are positioning this information instead to product developers—where there's obviously money to be made. According to, Menard said the researchers have developed a "training program" that will help manufacturers and marketing teams "switch on" their creative mental modes in order to "better understand and communicate on values of interest to people."

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: jbcurio

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