The Truffle Strategy: Tempt Your Customers


Could eating a chocolate treat make you want to buy a TV or a cruise? The surprising answer is YES!

At a mall I used to frequent, there was a candy kiosk that always offered a sample chocolate to each passerby. I wondered about the economics of that practice – it seemed that almost everyone grabbed the treat and kept on walking – but I assumed that it must be profitable. In fact, there’s research that shows tempting an individual and getting him to indulge will actually increase his desire to keep indulging. Even more surprising, the desire to indulge goes far beyond having another piece of candy and extends to high-priced consumer items like fancy computers and designer shirts!

Researchers Julio Laran of Miami University and Chris Janiszewski of the University of Florida offered subjects a chocolate truffle and encouraged them to eat it. The subjects who indulged were eager to keep indulging:

If the goal of indulging was activated by eating the sweet, participants tended to keep pursuing that goal (of indulgence) until they felt it was met by eating more and more truffles. The participants also showed a preference for fattier foods (ice cream, pizza, and chips) versus healthier foods (a salad, apple, and granola bar)… [From University of Miami.]

The startling finding was that this desire to indulge encompassed much more than tasty treats:

In one experiment, those who enjoyed the first truffle also valued non-food consumer luxuries, such as Apple computers, designer shirts, high-end TVs and cruises as compared with those who resisted the truffles.

There were a few other relevant findings. First, if the subjects continued to consume truffles until satisfied, the desire to indulge turned off. Second, those individuals who resisted the truffle also seemed to become more virtuous in their attempts to avoid self-indulgence.

The Truffle Strategy

Should you tempt your customers with some kind of indulgent treat? The neuromarketing takeaway from this study is that if you sell a product that might be considered an indulgence – e.g., a premium or luxury item, or a product that people want but don’t need – the truffle strategy might work. But, don’t keep feeding them treats or their desire to indulge themselves will fade. And be aware that those customers who resist the temptation may actually become harder to sell to.

Thinking back to the chocolate kiosk in the mall, I wonder now if the mall operator or surrounding merchants should have subsidized the free chocolates. The delivery mechanism was just about perfect – the clerk offered each passerby one sample, so there was no opportunity for a sweet-toothed customer to grab a handful. The samples were small enough that just about everyone who accepted one wanted more. (No doubt that was the chocolatier’s strategy.) But, according to these findings, each customer who accepted and ate one of the tasty morsels was primed to spend more money – and not just for a box of chocolates!

Image via Shutterstock

  1. Ron Hudson says

    Roger, I enjoyed this post because it further proves that we are susceptible to the power of reciprocation, especially when it involves chocolate. Chocolate is my kryptonite.

    It also reveals the fact that we reach a point of satiating a particular desire or indulgence. However, in this case not before indulging enough that the retailer generates some revenue. Undoubtedly the retailer can count on repeat business because eventually our being satiated will subside. Thanks for sharing your findings with us.

    Best regards,


  2. Adam Lawrence says

    There’s also research (not to hand, sorry), which shows that coffee makes us more likely to respond positively to good arguments…

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Brendon Clark says

    Good stuff. I’ve read the same research as Adam but, also like him, couldn’t place where I read it. Closest was Scientific Ámerican Mind?

    Anyway, an interesting read. There’s some good research about on priming which, as Roger points out, could have been implemented once a chocolate had been taken.

    But I’m wondering… would those people have been more likely to buy a raffle ticket or donate to a charity also? Interesting option for fundraisers here.

  4. Steve says

    That’s true. Revealing the taste of your product before you launch and market will entice users on a big scale. We sometimes see this strategy been carried by Films productions sometimes revealing the story of the Film even before its release. However as you said we should be take care of people who can resist temptations.

  5. Walter Reynolds says

    I have not read the full study but it seems to me that this could be more of a segmentation exercise. Those who indulge in the truffle are already predisposed to be more indulgent and less disciplined about their spending and their lives in general. And people who are more disciplined are reinforcing their commitment to that discipline when they resist the truffle temptation.

    This is similar to health studies that might show that people who take vitamins daily are healthier. The vitamin isn’t really the cause but rather a symptom of a person who is more concerned and disciplined about their health overall.

    Although – this may expand the scope of the advice often given to “not go grocery shopping when you are hungry” to all shopping.

  6. Pedro Camargo says

    Dear Roger Dooley, my name is Pedro Camargo, I´m from Brazil and worte two books, one about neuromarketing and other about consumer biology behavior behavior – in portuguese.
    I´m your bigest fan, ´cause i visite your blog every day, and most of the ocasions i do it two or tree times a day. I have a question for you;
    In your blog has a post ( The truffle strategy: tempt your customers ( showing that sweet” tempting an individual and getting him to indulge will actually increase his desire to keep indulging. Even more surprising,the desire to indulge goes far beyond having another piece of candy and extends to high-priced consumer items like fancy computers and designer shirts!”
    But I saw another statmet that
    “Consuming Sugar Decreases Desire for Immediate Monetary Rewards”. They are contradictory statements?I touhgt that sugar promotes impulsive behavior, but in a paper published in Psychological Science, by X. T. Wang and Robert D. Dvorak says the oposite

  7. Mark says

    Another fantastic post Roger! Looking forward to your new book!!

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