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Products in disguise

Communicating product benefits with surface mimicry

Anneleen Van Kerckhove, Caroline De Bondt and Maggie Geuens


In an effort to find a novel way to enhance the attractiveness of healthy food, this article proposes surface mimicry—that is, designing a product to visually resemble another product—as an effective intervention to communicate property information to consumers. Specifically, it advances the notion that exposure to surface mimicry primes property mapping, a thinking style that leads consumers to transfer property information from one product onto another. To this end, three studies show that exposure to a target food product (e.g., kiwifruit) mimicking visual characteristics of another, modifier food product (e.g., popsicle) induces a transfer of attribute values of the modifier onto the target product for salient, alignable attributes on which the products differ (e.g., tastiness). A fourth study points to the activation of a property-mapping mindset as the underlying process. Finally, the effect is shown to persist, but it attenuates when the difference in belief(s) about the target and mimicked product is substantial (e.g., the taste expectations for Brussels sprouts and popsicles).


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