Women beware: Food producers manipulate our consumer choices

Woman studies can Dr. TheresaOnce upon a time, the Spice Girls begged us to tell them what we want — what we really, really want. The food industry doesn’t bother, because it already knows.

The food industry cannot put food in your mouth. They can, however, put food in your head.

Much of the industry just wants to sell, and does not care much about your health. It is your job to know how they market to you, so you can keep yourself healthy.

The industry is controlled by large corporations that use advanced marketing techniques. Marketing is applied psychology. It’s the “she-conomy, and women control 85 percent of consumer spending.

Nobody understands selling to women better than Mary Lou Quinlan. She is Founder and CEO of the marketing company Just Ask a Woman. She has an innovative and effective approach which earned her the nickname the “Oprah of Madison Avenue.” Quinlan says that the female consumer tends to disclose “Half Truths” (what she is willing to tell you) while concealing “Whole Truths” (what she actually believes, does or buys).

Therefore, Quinlan argues, successfully marketing to women is a result of understanding their motivations and not their survey responses.

She says that women’s purchases tend to reflect our desire to reinvent ourselves. Sometimes we buy for our secret self. Sometimes we buy for our someday self. Often we buy for the idealized self we want others to see. Clever marketers capitalize on these desires.

For women, good value is always more than best price. We pay attention to labels and advertisements we believe are relevant to our purchasing decisions. Because humans are social, we automatically place high value on other peoples’ purchasing decisions, especially if they are trusted authority figures or familiar.

Quinlan uses the acronym GAMES to describe the five key motivating factors in women’s tendency to not “say what they mean.” Women who want to make better decisions need to be  aware of how this works.

Five key motivating factors

G = Good Intentions
Any label that makes health or diet claims is likely to automatically appeal to women’s wish to do the right thing. We balance this with things we really want. We know that the smart choice sticker doesn’t really make Fruit Loops a smart choice, but it does give us credit for good intentions.

A = Approval Seeking
It’s an important biological drive for us to believe we fit in. Celebrity endorsements, especially by women we admire, are potent motivators. Testimonials are a very effective marketing strategy, too.

M = Martyrdom
You probably don’t like this one, but it’s still a potent weapon in the marketers’ arsenal. The food industry is going to hammer you with their sympathy for how difficult your life is and how deserving you are of just a little pleasure or relief. And they offer it in a low-fat variety as well.

E = Ego Protection
Through her purchases, a woman reinforces the story of herself that she believes and treasures. This is also her “cover story” — they way she unconsciously wants others to perceive her. When Betty Crocker had dismal results after launching its complete boxed cake mix campaign in the 1950s, the company changed it to require the addition of an egg. Sales took off. Women appreciated the convenient boxed mix. But the typical purchaser wanted the ego protection of knowing she had added a fresh egg so she really baked it herself.

S =Secret Keeping
Women are strongly driven to hide behavior they believe will cause others to think less of them. Marketers are aware of bingeing behavior and they cater to it rather than constrain it.

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