Advertisements that target senses of touch and taste lead to quicker sales

Ann SchlosserAdvertisers are masters at evoking the senses in service of product sales. Think about the audible “snap, crackle and pop” of Rice Krispies. Or the tactile “the touch, the feel” of cotton. Or the “finger lickin’ good” flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But appeals to which senses are most effective at getting us to buy?

New research by Ann Schlosser of the University of Washington Foster School of Business finds that advertisements that trigger our senses of touch or taste lead consumers more quickly to a purchase than do ads that emphasize sight or sound.

For this investigation, Schlosser, a professor of marketing and Evert McCabe Endowed Fellow at Foster, collaborated with Ryan Elder of Brigham Young University, Morgan Poor of San Diego State University and Lidan Xu of the University of Illinois.

A series of four lab studies produced the consistent finding that people enticed by experiences of touch or taste were likely to make a purchase more immediately than those presented experiences of sight or sound, who tended to delay their purchasing.

In one study, for instance, participants read one of two advertisements for a summer festival. One emphasized the “amazing flavors” and the other promoted the “amazing sounds” to be experienced at the event. Those exposed to the ads highlighting taste were more interested in attending the festival this weekend, while those exposed to the ads highlighting sound were more willing to put it off until next year.

“Our finding has important implications for marketers,” says Schlosser, “especially those of products or events that are multi-sensory.”

A follow-on field study analysis of nearly 32,000 restaurant reviews on Yelp demonstrated how the sensory elements of a restaurant review affect its usefulness to prospective diners. Specifically, reviews emphasizing a more distal sense (sight or sound) were rated more useful when written in past tense—“We ate here last week and the pastries were stunningly beautiful to behold,” for instance. On the other hand, reviewers emphasizing a proximal sense (touch or taste) offered more useful reviews when they wrote in present tense—“This pastry I’m eating is so buttery that it seems to melt in my mouth.”

So Close I Can Almost Sense It: The Interplay between Sensory Imagery and Psychological Distance” is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Read more details about the study.