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Going for the sentimental shoppers

Food and drink makers are turning to anthropology to capture Canadians’ heartstrings. And their loyalty

Kraft bear TV ad

Consumers are quite the disloyal lot. Grocery manufacturers innovate to gain their attention, but customers have few qualms about turning their backs on a brand, even one they’ve stuck with for years.

Brand loyalty in Canada is fading fast, according to a report from public relations firm Veritas Communications. A whopping 74% of Canadians say they’ve switched from a preferred brand in the past year, and 69% are looking to make a change in the year ahead.

So what can CPGs do to keep their customers? Many are going straight for the heart with marketing that tugs at the deep, emotional connection people have with food and, more particularly, food brands they grew up with. Xavier Terlet, CEO of Paris-based food-industry consultancy XTC, says consumers simply won’t purchase food products they don’t feel emotionally connected to.

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But tugging on heartstrings to loosen wallets is no easy feat. Enter the anthropologists. These investigators of human behaviour past and present may be food and drink’s most awesome weapon in the quest to maintain market share.

Johanna Faigelman, an anthropologist and president of Human Branding, a consulting agency in Toronto, says her job isn’t merely to elicit misty eyes or sentimental smiles. It’s to tap into some of the powerful ideas that resonate with shoppers and uncover memories hidden away in their psyche.

To find those nuggets, Faigelman studies families in their homes, observing, for example, how they use products. Among the CPG firms she’s worked with: PepsiCo, McCormick & Company and Johnson & Johnson.

“If you don’t crack the code of what’s going to deeply motivate your consumers, you aren’t going to grow your business,” she says.

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One recent initiative from Kraft Canada to help tug at the heartstrings of consumers was Stick Together, a national campaign with a 60-second ad as its centerpiece. The ad follows a woman’s journey from childhood to motherhood. Throughout, she keeps her teddy bear by her side. Teddy bears are, of course, a hallmark of Kraft peanut butter labels.

Aaron Nemoy, Kraft peanut butter’s senior category manager, says the campaign focuses more on building emotional equity and less on the product and advertising. Kraft already has 99% awareness in the peanut butter category, after all.

“We know there’s a trend toward distracted living and working 24/7. We think Kraft peanut butter has the credibility to explore this because the brand is so deeply rooted in the comfort of home and connecting people to the individuals they share most,” he says. “We’ve engaged some clutural anthropoligst to help us explore some of the next intiatives for the brand.”

Nestle Canada has also worked with anthropologists to reposition several brands. Likewise, McCain has conducted anthropological and ethnographical studies in homes.

READ: General Mills focuses on the Cheerios effect

Why all this research? Nemoy says it’s because marketers must try harder than ever to get customer attention. And while an anthropologist’s research might not result in specific action (such as changes to packaging design, for example), understanding what makes people tick opens up room to play with new marketing strategies.

“Our philosophy is that consumers cannot always explain why they behave in a certain way,” says Irene Stathakos, insights director at McCain. “We believe about 80% of what drives human behaviour is hidden in our subconscious. An anthropologist can help understand that, leading to deeper insights, and uncovering opportunities for growth.”

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