Will This be Good for Me? – Perceptions of Healthiness.


What is a ‘healthy meal’ or a ‘healthy snack’? What makes this meal or snack ‘better for me’ that that one?

Most consumers are trying to eat more healthily, trying to make better choices. To balance occasional indulgencies with healthier meals and less fattening snacks. But, when looked at dispassionately from outside, our behaviour invariably lacks any real logic or sense. To allow myself a chocolate bar because I had a diet drink will not help me lose weight – to go without both might, in fact, be more helpful.

But our behaviour will always seem irrational when viewed from outside because, despite our greatest intentions, our food choices are more emotionally driven than rational, and even many of our supposedly more rational decisions are complex compromises that make little sense to the outside observer.

Every parent knows that feeding a family is always a balance between giving them food that is good for them, ensuring that everyone eats enough, and demonstrating my love for them by giving them food they really enjoy. Do you get more pleasure from seeing your family eat healthy food or from seeing them all enjoying a meal together?

There is little point in packing a child’s lunch box with healthy snacks if they come home every day untouched, carried by a ravenous and thus bad tempered child who heads straight for the biscuit tin.

So, the consumers’ view of your brand – be it a ‘healthy’ brand or an indulgence – is unlikely to be entirely logical. A high fat processed meaty snack may be thought of as ideal for a child’s lunch box as it is something they will eat, it will fill them up, it makes them happy and it is encouraging a habit of eating savoury rather than sweet snacks. Crisps may be considered the ‘healthy’ alternative if the other choice is a chocolate bar. A high sugar – or artificially sweetened – squash concentrate a good thing if it is the only way to get the children to drink any water.

And we make similar decisions when choosing our own food. We want to make healthy choices but find our desire for something more filling, more comforting, more enjoyable will – at that moment – often outweigh our desire for something healthier. And it is invariably not difficult to justify our decision to ourselves – a little red wine is good for you, I ate a healthy lunch, I missed my lunch, a little cream sauce will not do me any harm, it is dark chocolate after all not milk…

If we are to compete – let alone win – in this market we need to understand the complex emotional responses of our consumers to ours and our competitors’ products. This is not just about the emotions felt after consuming our products or those prompted by the appearance or the mention of the products. We need to understand the unconscious judgements and comparisons that the consumer is making and what it is about our communications, appearance, consumption experience etc. that drives these judgements.

We live in a time of hugely increasing knowledge as technology enables us to measure almost any aspect of consumer behaviour, but greater knowledge is of limited help without understanding. True insight comes from understanding the motivations that drive the behaviours. These motivations are subliminal, rarely rational, but we can understand and explain them. It just takes a little bravery.

The Marketing Clinic