“Taste enables us to distinguish all that has a flavor from that which is insipid.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
In the Added Value Paris team’s second article about the senses, we turn our attention to perhaps the most commercially researched sense, that of taste. But are marketers, especially of non-food brands, really exploiting all the opportunities that this sense provides?…
Our personal taste
It will surprise few people to learn that taste is personal. Individuals don’t react identically to the same flavour, which makes taste the most intimate of our senses. It seems that our DNA, as well as what our mother ate during her pregnancy, are highly determining factors on our sense of taste, along with cultural factors.
Children experience more tastes than adults because they have more taste buds, including ones on the inside of their cheeks, a fact which explains the seemingly hypnotic appeal of sweets and candy to kids. Women also have more taste buds than men and are generally more sensitive to tastes as a result, while the taste buds of the over 50s renew less often, leading to decreasing taste sensitivity as people age.
Our taste buds can rapidly be “trained” to appreciate (or reject less strongly) certain flavours through repeat exposure. Indeed, the makers of Parodontax toothpaste go so far as to put a series of unhappy to happy faces on their packaging to illustrate that the particularly salty taste of their gum health paste can quickly pass from “yuk!” to “yum!” over the course of 15 days.
Incredibly, our tongues feature approximately 10,000 taste buds that enable us to detect five core tastes: salted, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – a savoury taste present in soy, seaweed and fish sauce. A sixth taste, that of fat, is currently being debated by French researchers and could soon join the list of official senses. Each taste comes with its own particular associations: we link sweet flavours with calories, salted ones with vitamins and minerals, and bitter ones are associated with poison.
Taste perception is highly influenced by its lexicon, and restaurateurs have long known that giving more evocative and descriptive names to dishes can increase their sales. Our sense of taste is also heavily reliant on its visual context: a visual contrast between food and its plate (e.g. white fish on a dark plate) is known to increase eating pleasure.
Why does taste matter?
Apart from the obvious pleasure of enjoying our food, the state of our sense of taste is closely linked to our general state of health. People who suffer from ageusia (sense deprivation), beyond a general lack of appetite and weight loss, are commonly prone to symptoms of depression and stress.
On the other hand, it has been proven that “supertasters” (those who are more sensitive to different tastes) are generally 20 percent thinner than the general population: with their heightened sensitivity to sugar and dairy fats, supertasters are less likely than other people to crave junk foods.
The very act of eating is itself linked to a wide array of emotions: self-reward, forgetting, relaxing, celebrating – and of course hunger. Taste is a sense that fosters togetherness, hence our desire to share meals with others for enhanced pleasure.
Taste is a ‘short range’ sense, unlike sight, sound or smell (which can operate at longer distances), hence why it is linked to stopping power. Taste appreciation usually implies pausing, staying put and spending more time somewhere, a fact which gave rise to the popularity of in-store food courts and restaurants. So taste matters because it is an emotionally powerful sense that can create engaging moments and experiences, and even stop us in our tracks.
A white space in the marketing of non-food brands
We live in societies and times where interest in food, cuisine and taste is paramount, making it easier to entice consumers to embark upon a tasting journey. The rise of aspirational connoisseurship and intensified product pairings are another sign of this trend.
But taste remains a big white space in the sensory marketing of non-food brands. Taste is a sense which is leveraged by very few brands: only some 16% of the Fortune 1000 brands are estimated to incorporate this sense in their mix.
This is because there is a common belief that taste is reserved to food and drink brands and brands whose core equity is not rooted in food tend not to venture into taste. But perhaps they should, even if it means stretching outside of their usual zones of activity? After all, taste can be accessed through adjacent senses. For example, we strongly associate colors with tastes: red and orange are sweet, green and yellow are sour, while white tends to be salty.
So what could be taste’s contribution to a non-food/drink related brand? What cues should such a brand try to convey?
For inspiration as to what’s possible, check out creative think tank Visionnaire’s issue number 47 where they collaborated with international Flavours and Fragrances (IFF) in a project that aimed to evoke deeply conceptual ideas through taste. The experience was comprised of multiple edible strips (and specially commissioned artwork) referring to concepts ranging from Luxury (fresh pine cone tips) to Guilt (leather and chocolate) or even Mother (condensed milk) and Youth (cherry licquorice).
More down-to-earth, but highly original, Fanta’s ‘Drink your Magazine’ campaign used edible paper to pre-seed their product’s taste before the actual product experience. Consumers were invited to tear off a piece of the magazine and taste the flavour of Fanta.
And during a recent Kenzo catwalk show, guests were given patisseries designed by Lenôtre so they could “taste” the creativity of the brand’s designs as well as see it.
Even if your brand’s only opportunity to deploy taste as a marketing tool comes through a PR or in-store event, it’s definitely time to stop relying on the standard fare from the caterer round the corner and think about how your choice of flavours could actually strengthen your brand’s message. The fastest way to a consumer’s heart is definitely through their mouths.
Finally, don’t forget that taste rarely works in isolation from other senses. As we noted in our previous article on smell, much of what we taste is actually governed by our noses. Using taste as a way of communicating therefore also requires a brand to work on its olfactory and visual codes to guarantee congruency across the senses. Otherwise, whichever sense you are deploying, you risk eroding the value of your investment significantly.
If you would like Added Value to help you think about how your brand can harness the power of taste, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Written by Mark Whiting, Sandrine McClure, Directors, Alexandre Richard, Project Director, James Horton, Intern, Marina Cozzika, Public Relations.
Image credits: Added Value
Read more about how to use the other senses in market research: