Product Contagion in Action


I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently (which explains the lower rate of Neuromarketing posts), and at a recent stay at a Jameson Inn in Indiana, I encountered the above product arrangement on the shelf of their little convenience shop next to the check-in desk. While most of the studies have looked at the effect of juxtaposing products, say, in a shopping cart, this is an unusual example of product contagion right on the shelf. (If you didn’t catch my previous post, “product contagion” refers to the demonstrated ability of a product likely to arouse disgust in a consumers mind to “contaminate” nearby products, as in a shopper’s cart. Put your cookies next to a bag of kitty litter and the cookies become less appealing.) I’ve got to wonder how Instant Lunch sales at this particular hotel compare to sales at other Jameson locations…

And that product positioning wasn’t the only neuromarketing gaffe I found during that stay. Clearly, the central office didn’t read Green Marketing Doesn’t Work (or Cialdini’s book Yes! ) when they wrote the copy for this card:

Actually, it’s hard to fault Jameson Inn on this one – virtually every hotel I’ve stayed in that has one of these cards, and all are variations on “Save The Planet.” I’ve yet to encounter one that used Cialdini’s results to improve their card with the implication that recycling one’s towels will conform to social norms (in addition to preserving the environment and saving the hotel a few cents).

On a more practical note, though, the card offers guests two options – throwing the towel on the floor to receive a freshly laundered one, and replacing it on the rack to recycle it. I’d guess that much of the time the maid servicing a room finds the towel in neither place, but rather on the sink, over the edge of the tub, etc. While I assume that the hotel has a policy on how to handle these nonconforming towels so carelessly placed by thoughtless guests who couldn’t follow instructions, one would think a simple, “to receive a new towel, please throw the used one on the floor” would add clarity and make recycling the default option.

So, put on your neuromarketing glasses and let me know what egregious neuro-blunders YOU can find!

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— who has written 959 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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6 responses to "Product Contagion in Action" — Your Turn

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Dave 13. October 2008 at 10:59 am

It so happens that I’m married to a wonderful woman who has interesting cravings at that time of the month. For salty food.

In light of this, does the product arrangement at the sundries shop seem so wrong from a Neuromarketing perspective? I’m wondering if they’ve tracked unit sales…

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Chris Brogan... 13. October 2008 at 9:15 pm

You had me at cookies-kitty litter. Wow.

I never miss a post, so I’m glad you took a moment to drop a new one in the bucket. : )

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Arnþór Snær 15. October 2008 at 6:47 pm

I’ve always understood the “green thing” in hotel bathroom as a ploy to cut down on the cleaning bill dressed in an enviromental suit.

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Vandy 15. October 2008 at 7:08 pm

Lack of space is a constant challenge for a small shop, as my husband knows all too well. His crams in a coffee bar, bakery and deli counter on top of having to stock the everyday essentials and little treats. Even so, he manages to get a logical order to his display shelves. I think common sense has a lot to be said for it – grouping baking ingredients together in one area and cleaning products together, but somewhere else in the shop. He’s always taken the approach of working on the basis of putting himself in a customer’s shoes when he thinks about things like this. “If I were looking for coffee, what other products would I be expecting to see on the same shelf?”

But its great to understand more about the underlying psychology. I’ve passed this post on to my husband and will certainly be looking for Cialdini’s book.

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Matt Bernier 15. October 2008 at 9:39 pm

I found this at the local grocery store, its more an example of micro-product-contagion in that the label and the contents together make me want to never buy this product…

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Andre 16. October 2008 at 4:24 pm

Although it does seem that some shelf arrangements are disgusting, sometimes they are there for a reason. There is a well know co-marketing promotion between beer and diapers. Putting them together in the aisle considerably increases consumption on both categories.
No one came with definite answers on why that happens, but strongest theory is that tired, bored and stressed parents drink more beer (sometimes you forget about the diapers and go straight to the beer section… that is why putting them together also helps diapers sales -)

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