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Healthy advertising coming to its senses

The effectiveness of sensory appeals in healthy food advertising

Gudrun Roose and Lana Mulier


With increasing obesity rates and the daily overload of unhealthy food appeals, an important objective for advertising today is to promote healthy food consumption. According to previous research, sensory food advertisements referring to multiple senses—a combination of visual (sight), tactile (touch) and olfactory (smell) cues—evoke more positive sensory thoughts and, therefore, higher taste perceptions than advertisements referring to a single sense (e.g., only taste cues). However, this research only focused on sensory advertising for unhealthy food. The current research investigates how sensory advertising can promote healthy food. While multiple-sense ads for unhealthy food were shown to be more effective than single-sense ads, we find that, for healthy food, single-sense ads increase taste perceptions and advertising effectiveness compared to multiple-sense ads. In two laboratory experiments, we show a different underlying process for this effect—that is, single-sense ads evoke fewer negative thoughts than multiple-sense ads, which mediates the effect of single-sense versus multiple-sense ads on taste perceptions and advertising effectiveness. Moreover, we show that these effects occur not only for verbal ads but, importantly, also for visual ads, which are omnipresent today. This article closes with implications for theory and suggestions for food marketers, ad executives, and public policy.

Keywords: healthy food; sensory marketing; senses; taste perception; thought listing; mental imagery; advertising effectiveness


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