Pssssttt… spinach is good for you, but don’t tell anyone! | The Time Traveller’s Dog on

popeye-9188812I guess it’s one of those cliches all around the world, isn’t it?  Families sitting round the dining table (ok, probably the TV or something), parents desperately trying to convince protesting kids to eat their greens because they’re good for them, they’ll make them big and strong, they taste yummy… You get the idea.  Rarely works, not even when the manufacturers helpfully supply potatoes shaped like daleks or goldfish or Katy Perry or whatever.  Hopeless!

New research by Maimaran and Fishbach in the forthcoming issue of Journal of Consumer Research, however, at last sheds a little more light on what might be going on here;  why can we very rarely sell fruit and vegetables and other healthy stuff to our children?

The problem appears to be that we try too hard or, in fact, that we are actually trying at all.  In an innovative set of experiments, the researchers found that telling children to eat their greens because they are good for them had very little effect at all, whereas trying to convince them at they tasted good fared only slightly better.  In fact, by far the best strategy appeared to be to say nothing at all.  Consumption of a range of healthy foods was at its highest when the children were simply given their mean and left to get on with it!

Why should this be the case, I wonder?  Well, probably the best explanation, also hinted at by the authors, is what I like to call “proposition overload”.  In marketing, we are constantly striving to provide customers with a unique set of value propositions, something that makes this run-of-the-mill hatchback car better than that almost-identical one parked next to it.  Sometimes, we simply try to hard and offer too many value propositions from a single product, so the consumer faces information overload and the propositions themselves become diluted.  This appears to be what’s going on when parents try to persuade their reluctant children to eat healthy foods; they try so hard with all the potential virtues that the messages become confused and the real value to the child is lost.

And the message for marketers here generally?  Don’t overdo the value propositions you are trying to sell to your customers.  This may well be an Internet-enabled games console, with built-in television and baby monitor, but much better to describe it simply as the “latest entertainment system” if you want  to achieve higher sales!