What Yogurt Can Teach Marketers


I’m not a big yogurt fan. “Live cultures” would be unacceptable (or even scary) in most foods, but are highly prized in yogurt. Nevertheless, we can all learn something from a neuromarketing study focused on the gooey dairy product.

First, a question. If you were to imagine the process of eating yogurt, starting with seeing the container, picking it up, opening it, inserting the spoon and stirring up the fruit, smelling it, eating the first spoonful, then another, which step do you think would be most engaging to your brain?

In The Buying Brain, Dr. A. K. Pradeep says that most people asked that question choose “spoon & stirring.” Certainly, the first creamy spoonful would be a good second guess. When NeuroFocus tested the yogurt consumption process in its labs, however, they reached a surprising conclusion: the key part of the process (as far as consumer brains are concerned) is grasping and removing the foil covering over the top of the container.

NeuroFocus calls such characteristics a Neurological Iconic Signature (NIS). An NIS could include the crunch of a potato chip. Pradeep doesn’t mention it, but long before neuromarketing one advertiser found and promoted its NIS: Rice Krispies made the sound its cereal made when combined with milk famous with its “Snap, Crackle, Pop” slogan.

The finding that pulling off the foil lid was perhaps the most significant sensory element in eating yogurt was important to the yogurt-making client that sponsored the work, but it’s an important lesson for all product marketers. Don’t assume that the obvious product characteristics are the only important ones. With yogurt, one would logically expect taste, texture, and aroma to outweigh mere packaging considerations; that was found to be incorrect. (At the same time, flavor and other characteristics are still very important to the success of the product; if the yogurt didn’t taste good or had an off-note in its aroma, surely it wouldn’t sell.)

And while neuromarketing studies can reveal surprises like this, costly research isn’t always necessary. The Rice Krispies marketers who decided to let everyone else talk about flavor and focus their ads on the sound of their cereal conducted no brain studies, but turned their brand into a decades-long success story.

Image via Shutterstock

  1. John Ladd says

    Interesting study.
    When I asked myself the question, I, too, “voted” for opening the container. I can’t articulate exactly why this is the most important moment, but it makes sense. It’s got something to do with opening, with the excitement of a new possibilities I’m opening up, literally and symbolically.
    I suspect that this initial moment isn’t powerful in our experience of many products. And thus isn’t this something that we should experiment with or at least pay attention to in our marketing.
    And more specifically, I’d love to be able to make the opening up of the envelope that contains my fund raising appeal for Carolina Friends School be more like opening a yogurt container. Are there strategies you could suggest that could help in this regard?
    Thanks for your blog. It’s a lot of fun and the source of much food for thought.
    John Ladd

    1. Roger Dooley says

      One thing about yogurt is that each serving is opened individually. For most products, the opening occurs once but consumption happens later, over a period of time. Thanks for stopping by, John.


  2. Kelly Watson says

    Never would have guessed the foil lid thing. I guess it’s good we have research for stuff like that.

    I’m curious how all those awful Activia commercials come into play, however. Where does a BM rank on the list?

  3. Nik Pasic says

    Makes perfect sense. Kind of like that sparkling sound you hear when you open the symbolic curved coca cola bottle or that quick fizzy burst of compressed air when you twist a beer bottle cap. Never would have thought of that though though. Very interesting read.

  4. Mark Kerback says

    As a yogurt eater (and researcher) I wonder if the act of licking the lid after removing it – is the real key step in the process for what I guess are a substantial amount of yogurt eaters. Maybe I am just cheap and don’t want to waste some really good stuff! (An interesting segmentation question.)

    Good, thought-provoking article.

  5. Roger Dooley says

    Interesting, Mark. Oddly, I never lick yogurt lids. Maybe I subconsciously fear a foil cut on my tongue, or that the product on the lid has been there for months and isn’t as good as the stuff in the container. Takeaway: everyone’s experience is different, so it’s wise to avoid lumping everyone into one category.


  6. Jonas says

    Last summer, me and some friends where hiking in the swedish mountains. It was warm and sunny, we carried rather heavy backpack but had allowed ourselves the luxury of bringing one beer can each.

    When we had walked in silence for a while, one of us imitated the fizzy sound of a beer can being opened. That sound was indeed a Neurological Iconic Signature, it carried all the expected pleasure of drinking that cool beer once that days march came to an end.

    On a more research related note, this also demonstrate the trap of routinly asking consumers whatever you want to know. I think most youghurt consumers would never say that opening the lid was an important moment. Observation and experiment are, in my opinion, too often overlooked as research methods by markteteers.

    Thank your Roger for, yet another, interesting and valuable post.


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