Belgian biscuits, packaging & why copywriting matters more than you think

A few years ago Rory Sutherland and his team at Ogilvy UK received a phone call from a Belgian colleague.

The guy was super worried.

One of their clients, a leading Belgian biscuit manufacturer, decided to replace their most popular brand with a new and healthier low-fat recipe.

So what was the problem?

When the client launched the new biscuits onto the market, sales dropped like crazy.

This was ridiculously shocking. Because they did extensive market research. And research showed that most people couldn't notice any difference in taste.

The new biscuit tasted just like the old one, but for some weird reason no one was buying the new version.

So Rory asks his Belgian colleague, "I see. And did you put Now with lower fat on the packaging of the biscuits?"

His colleague says, "Of course we did! We'd spent months reducing the fat content of the biscuits - what's the point of doing that if you don't tell people about it?"

Rory replies, "There's your problem. It doesn't matter what something tastes like in blind tastings, if you put "low in fat" or any other health indicators on the packaging you'll make the contents taste worse".

One of Belgium's leading biscuits manufacturers made a classic marketing mistake.

They assumed consumers make rational decisions. And they assumed our tastebuds alone will determine if something tastes good or bad. That's why in the market research that they conducted the biscuits were unpackaged. Because they thought it didn't matter.

But it turns out, taste is partly in your mind. And taste will certainly be affected by the expectations created by the packaging.

P.S. If you liked this story, I highly recommend Rory's book Alchemy. It was my favorite book of 2019 and it's full of surprising and fascinating anecdotes like this about how we humans are irrational. And how we must learn how to understand the basics of behavioral economics and psychology to get ahead in the Real World.

Your pal,


Miguel Ferreira
Founder & Chief Copywriter, Teardwn + Nishi


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