Why embracing the age old adage ‘we eat with our eyes’ is vital in any food marketing

Simon Porter writes about how food marketers can create a visual appetite and better tap into consumers’ senses.

‘We eat with our eyes’ has never been truer than today. Food is one of the top social objects and a core pillar of Instagram growth, with millions of food or foodporn hashtags per day. Whilst you’d be forgiven for thinking technology, social media, celebrity chefs and influencers have driven this phenomenon over just the last decade, you’d be wrong by about 2,000 years. 

The phrase can be traced back to the 1st century Roman gourmet, Apicius, who created the Roman cookbook on parchment tablets back in the day. That’s right, a celebrity gourmet harnessing the day’s social platform and the power and love of food in visual form. I’d imagine instead of hashtags he used papyrus but it’s the same truth and trend.

I do think it’s a fair bet though that our increasing exposure to great looking food on digital channels today is exacerbating food desire. Whether that’s a responsible thing in an obesity epidemic is an argument for another day.

Eating with our eyes is a fundamental truth for all food brands and should form the cornerstone of their strategy. You can have the most emotionally compelling campaign but if you don’t get the visual appetite appeal right across the whole marketing mix you stand no chance. 

Eating is a primal need. We can’t of course survive without food and our brain and bodies have evolved to fulfil this function. It’s not by accident our mouths are positioned so close to the brain. 

Powerful brain chemicals get our senses going. It is of course not just the eyes but all of our senses. What we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Senses geared to create a craving and desire for food. The majority of the time we buy what we think will satisfy that craving. Our job as food brands and advertisers is to drive that desire to satisfy. Creating a literal hunger and triggering a primordial desire for our product.

It goes without saying then, we need to invest in the visual appeal via photography and video. Creating appetite appeal compels consumers on an emotional level. But we should also entice consumers with wider sensory appeal. The sizzle of a steak or bubbling of cooking cheese can get the juices flowing.

Often, it’s not just the product (particularly in commoditised categories) but the promise of what the product can do. For consistency, longevity and down-right foodporn smarts Lurpak takes some beating. We’re talking about butter here, a premium great tasting butter yes, but it is just a butter. Before Lurpak, butter was viewed very much as a supermarket staple. By elevating the senses and tapping into visual appetite appeal Lurpak has transformed a whole category.

I was lucky enough to work with Lurpak for a number of years and they get so much right, in particular: appetite appeal and always making the product the hero.

It’s not just in above the line that appetite appeal is vitally important. The average consumer thinks about food for 40-minutes per day (that’s one thing I’m above average in at least). But, on average a shopper will spend 0.89 seconds looking at a piece of POS or around 1.5 seconds proximity outdoor. So, while we have a captive audience, we don’t have long to land our message.

Which is why it’s worth investing time to ensure we get this conversion media right. Too many brands pay lip service or leave it to their sales teams to deliver this part of the marketing mix. Here are some golden rules for food brands to stand their best chance of winning these moments of truth:

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words – hero the food and make sure it has appetite appeal.
  2. Don’t waste your words – 80 percent of shoppers will read the headline in proximity media, so make it count. But keep it simple, any more than 6 words and you’ve already lost them.
  3. Emotion beats function – appetite appeal triggers an emotional response and we’re trying to nudge shoppers out of their habitual shopping sleep mode. If in doubt, closer to the store food to the fore.
  4. Never underestimate the power of visual triggers – own distinctive brand assets. Colourways, packs and brand name. Don’t hide them, it’s how shoppers subliminally navigate.

Ultimately though and to paraphrase James Carville in Clinton’s 1992 presidential election campaign: ‘It’s all about the food stupid’.

Simon Porter is the managing director of Havas Commerce.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash.