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Michal Maimaran

Northwestern University

Ayelet Fishbach

University of Chicago


Michal Maimaran is a visiting assistant professor at the Marketing Department, Kellogg School

of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 60208 (m- maimaran@kellogg.northwestern.edu). Ayelet Fishbach is the Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, 5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637 (ayelet.fishbach@chicagobooth.edu).

2  Abstract We propose that marketing food as having instrumental, health benefits undermines preschoolers’ enjoyment of this food and decreases their motivation to consume it. In support of this proposition, a survey study with parents of preschoolers finds that emphasizing health benefits does not increase consumption of vegetables above and beyond merely serving them (study 1). Two experiments involving actual consumption then show that preschoolers (age 3-5) rate crackers as less tasty and consume fewer of them when these children receive information on the crackers’ instrumental, health benefits, as opposed to no information on benefits or information on the crackers’ experiential, taste benefits (studies 2-3). These results add to the understanding of how young children respond to food marketing by deciding what and how much to consume. We discuss how children’s decision processes may differ from adults’.

3  As obesity rates increase around the world (Brownell and Horgen 2004; Hill and Peters 1998), marketers, health providers, policy makers, and educators constantly attempt to get people to eat more healthfully (e.g., Chandon and Wansink 2007a), for example, by including nutritional information on food labels (Balasubramanian and Cole 2002) and advertising the importance of starting healthy consumption at an early age (e.g., slogans such as “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”). Our research argues and shows that marketing food items as “healthy,” as opposed to no information or information on taste, can undermine the natural tendency of preschoolers as young as three years old to eat these food items, and decreases their level of enjoyment of these items.

Besides satisfying hunger, eating is motivated by two main benefits: taste and healthiness. Like satisfying hunger, taste is an experiential (intrinsic) benefit in that it is an integral part of the eating experience. By contrast, health benefits are instrumental (extrinsic) in that achievement of these benefits is separated and conditioned on completion of the activity.

Thus, attending to health benefits can make eating an extrinsically motivated activity (Higgins and Trope 1990; Ryan and Deci 2000; Shah and Kruglanski 2002). Indeed, recent research shows that attending to the goals an activity serves, that is, its instrumentality (e.g., its healthiness), as opposed to the experience of pursuing the activity (e.g., pleasantness), undermines intrinsic motivation and leads to an overall less positive experience (Fishbach and Choi 2012).

Accordingly, we predict that marketing pitches emphasizing a food’s health rather than taste benefits, or not emphasizing benefits at all, would shift attention from the experience (i.e.,

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this shift in attention would decrease enjoyment of the food such that young consumers will rate it as less tasty and will therefore reduce current and planned consumption of the item.

Of particular interest is testing these predictions among children as young as three to five years old. Preschoolers are frequently exposed to food-related persuasion attempts in person and through the media (Desrochers and Holt 2007; Powell, Szczypka, and Chaloupka 2007).

Additionally, children ages three to five years old seek more immediate rewards and do not have a chronic health goal active. As such, we assume these children rely primarily on taste, that is, the experiential aspect of eating, when deciding what and how much to eat. Children further use health information only to the extent that it is useful for making taste inferences. Adults, on the other hand, rely, at least partially, on health and more complex considerations such as guiltreducing mechanisms (Chandon and Wansink 2007b; Coelho Do Vale, Pieters, and Zeelenberg 2008; Raghunathan, Naylor, and Hoyer 2006). Accordingly, if children deem healthy-framed food less tasty, they will reduce consumption.

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The actions in which consumers engage offer various types of benefits. Some are more experiential, and hence the reward is an immediate part of pursuing the activity, and some are more instrumental and offer rewards only after the action is completed. Experiential benefits are an integral part of the activity itself and are realized at the time of pursing the activity, such as relaxing while reading a good book. Instrumental benefits, on the other hand, are realized only after the action is completed and are associated with the goal the action represents. For example,

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appear as up to date, making reading the book instrumental in achieving these goals. Similarly, exercising at the gym is instrumental in helping people stay in good shape and lose weight (a delayed reward), but it also provides a good experience by allowing one to relax or meet new people (a reward that is part of the activity). Thus the same activity can be more instrumental or experiential, depending on the context. When pursuing an activity mainly for the sake of pursuing it, the activity is considered experiential—the intrinsic experience forms its end. When pursuing an activity mainly as a means to an end, the activity is instrumental for achieving the end and is considered extrinsically motivated (Choi & Fishbach, 2011; Shah & Kruglanski, 2002).

Focusing on the instrumental benefits an action offers can have negative consequences on motivation, persistence, and overall experience, similar to the way external rewards can undermine motivation (Deci, 1971; Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett 1973). In particular, Fishbach and Choi (2012) show that attending to the instrumental benefits can undermine consumers’ enjoyment from creating origami and practicing yoga, and undermine their intrinsic motivation to engage in these and other activities.

In this paper, we examine the interplay between experiential and instrumental benefits in the context of eating. In addition to satisfying hunger, eating is mainly motivated by taste and healthiness. Taste is an experiential benefit in that it is an integral part of the eating experience.

In particular, enjoying the good taste of the food items provides an immediate reward that is an integral part of the eating activity. The food healthfulness, by contrast, is an instrumental benefit in that achievement of this benefit is separated and conditioned on completion of the activity. In particular, eating vegetables or a low-fat dish provides a delayed reward in the form of possibly

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the eating action in completed. We next review research on how emphasizing the health and taste benefits affect food consumption and taste ratings.

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With obesity being declared as a global epidemic (Caballero 2007; Wang and Beydoun, 2007), academics, as well as marketers and health practitioners, are striving toward a better understanding of how to make people eat healthier food. Different initiatives, such as manipulating serving size and size labels (Aydınoğlu and Krishna 2011; Chandon and Wansink 2007b; Dubios, Rucker, and Galnisky 2012) or including nutritional information on packages (Kiesel, McCluskey, and Villas-Boas 2011; Moorman, Ferraro, and Huber 2012), have been investigated, some proven more successfully than others.

An important empirical question is whether emphasizing the instrumental, health benefits of food items increases or taste ratings and how it influences consumption. Research with adult participants generated mixed results (see Chandon and Wansink 2012 for a review). In some cases, marketing food as healthy can lead to lower taste ratings, as reported by Raghunathan et al. (2006). In particular, when the researchers presented consumers with food that was framed as healthy (e.g., low fat), compared to unhealthy (e.g., high fat), consumers rated the healthy food as less tasty and were also less likely to choose it in a forced-choice task. For example, people rated a lassi drink described as “made out of real mango pulp and milk;

generally considered very healthy” as less tasty compared to a lassi drink that was described as

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In other cases, participants perceived the unhealthy-framed food as less tasty. For example, Irmak, Vallen, and Robinson (2011) found that dieters, but not non-dieters, rated unhealthy-named food (e.g., candy chews) as less healthy, less tasty, and eventually consumed less of it, compared to when the same food had a healthy name (e.g., fruit chews). According to Irmak et al. (2011), dieters self-manipulate taste perception (Gibbs 1991) to decrease consumption from food they should not consume. As such, they perceive unhealthy-framed food as less tasty, and as a result, they consume less of it.

Presenting food that is usually perceived unhealthy as healthy can also increase consumption. In particular, consumers ate more M&Ms when these were framed as low fat (compared to a neutral frame) and provided lower calorie estimation for them (Wansink and Chandon 2006). This effect was more pronounced among overweight consumers who are more sensitive to such labels. Similarly, Provencher, Polivy, and Herman (2008) report increased intake of a cookie framed as an “oatmeal snack” compared to an “indulgent gourmet snack.” Marketing food as healthy can also increase reported hunger levels (Finkelstein and Fishbach 2010), especially among those who are not concerned about weight-watching. Consistent with this finding, Crum et al. (2011) found that presenting a milkshake as “sensible” and containing 140 calories led to lower satiation levels, as measured by ghrelin levels (a hormone associated with energy insufficiency), compared to when the same milkshake was presented as “indulgent” and containing 620 calories. They found no differences in taste ratings of the two milkshake frames.

To summarize, marketing food as healthy (versus not providing health information, or providing taste instead of health information) can lead to higher or lower taste ratings, depending

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weight), which in turn can affect consumption. Adults rely on a complex set of considerations when making inferences about a food’s taste and rely on considerations beyond taste when deciding what and how much to consume (Chandon and Wansink 2007b; Coelho Do Vale et al.

2008; Vartanian, Herman, and Wansink 2008). As a result, past research sometimes reports an increase or decrease in taste ratings when the health benefits are emphasized. To better understand the effect of health benefits, in this paper we examine how emphasizing the instrumental, health benefits, relative to no such emphasis or emphasizing the experiential, taste benefits, affects taste ratings and consumption among young consumers, as young as three years old. This population is of special interest for several reasons, as we review in the next section.

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Young children are frequently exposed to advertising and persuasion attempts. Although children ages three to seven years old are able to distinguish commercials from regular television programs (Blosser and Roberts 1985; Levin, Petros, and Petrella 1982), they are often not aware of the motives behind these advertisements to make them purchase the featured products (e.g., Robertosn and Rossiter 1974). At the same time, exposure to advertisements can be quite influential, affecting children’s requests of toys (Burr and Burr 1977; Robinson et al. 2001) as well as food consumption (Borzekowski and Robinson 2001). Understanding how such marketing pitches, emphasizing the health or taste or no benefits, affect children’s consumption and enjoyment of the food is therefore crucial.

When trying to assess the effect of health and taste messages on three- to five-year-olds’

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decisions about food. First, children this age have low self-control; they generally look for immediate rewards and have difficulty delaying gratification (Miller and Karniol 1976a, 1976b;

Mischel and Mischel 1983; Mischel, Shoda and Rodriguez 1989). Therefore, they look for food that they judge as tasty in order to enjoy the immediate reward of good taste. Moreover, unlike adults, who may have a chronic dieting goal that affects their perception of food items and consumption behavior (Martz, Sturgis, and Gustafson 1996; Ward and Mann 2000), most children do not have such a goal. As such, children are driven mainly by the hedonic aspects of eating, namely, satisfying hunger and enjoying the food’s taste. Therefore, food that is presented as tasty is likely to be attractive. The attractiveness of food that is presented as healthy depends on children’s taste inferences from health information.

This reliance on taste is expected to affect children’s consumption and enjoyment of food. Specifically, as reviewed above, shifting attention to the instrumental benefits has been shown to lead to overall less positive experiences relative to when the experiential benefits are emphasized or even when no benefits are emphasized. This is because people make the inference that there are less intrinsic benefits in engaging in the activity. Thus, emphasizing the instrumental, health benefits of food items, as opposed to the experiential, taste benefits or no benefits at all, should lead to lower taste ratings.

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