Scientists call this mimetic desire: A person desiring what another person already has. This mimetic desire isn’t limited to children, we all experience it many, many times. In fact, lots of brands rely on it.
The Mimetic Desire in Retail
From a scientific point of view, the fact is that brands look more appealing once we see other people using them. And this is more than a jealousy thing, just wanting what others have. This is all about valuing something because others value it.
Even talking to others about an ice cold Coke is enough to get them thinking that you’ve 'discovered' this refreshing drink and they should try it too.
In a recent research study, the power of mimetic desire was measured and analysed, leading to potentially very powerful findings for brands and retailers. Lebreton et al. "Your Goal Is Mine: Unraveling Mimetic Desires in the Human Brain".
During the research, subjects were shown different products, but the key was that some of the product images were standalone shots of just the item, while others showed the item being picked up by another person. The results were emphatic: People preferred the object that had been selected by the unseen person, rating it as more attractive than one that had not been touched, and this was consistent across clothing, food, toys and tools. What this means is that mimetic desire is easy to generate. Basically, all you need to do is show people selecting and consuming specific products and others will want those same items more.
The scientists identified two different processes in the brain that were responsible. Firstly, the mirror neuron system: These neurons, discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti recently as 1985, respond when you see someone else performing an action, such as drinking Coke. We call it the mirror neuron system because it mirrors the behaviour of someone else, as if we were doing the same action our self. In summary, when you see somebody drinking Coke, your brain automatically imagines you doing the same thing.
The second system is our internal valuation system. This helps us attribute value to specific things around us. If it is good enough for them, then I want it too. Or more accurately, because they want it then I want it more.
In summary, when the mirror neuron system and valuation system come together in our minds, we generate strong mimetic desire.
So the next time you see two children arguing over the same toy car, or suddenly find yourself desiring the latest smartphone that you have no real use for, blame your mirror neuron system and internal valuation system; jointly responsible for your mimetic desire.
The Mimetic Desire in Supermarkets
Now here’s the real point of this post; why, in the face of this and other evidence, is there a distinct lack of imagery in-store, showing shoppers and consumers selecting and using the products available? Why are there never any images of people eating food or drinking in supermarkets? Why do we never see shots of food and drink being consumed on packs? Why do we just have a bland ‘serving suggestion’ with nobody serving or being served with it?
So many questions! But the point is that yet again there is clear scientific evidence that brands and retailers could do more to make their wares more appealing. The interesting question is: “Will the accountants let the researchers discover just how powerfully science can increase specific product appeal. I fear not.
Want to improve the appeal of your products on shelf? Or perhaps you are just curious to know what makes for better product appeal? Either way, Let’s talk.