Posts Tagged ‘Kyle Morich’

February 10th, 2011


By Kyle Morich

This past Sunday, I hosted my annual Super Bowl party for my family and friends. The ambient noise drowned out much of the game and many of the famously expensive commercials, which for the most part is a good thing (I’m looking at you GoDaddy).  However, one ad I did actually watch this year, for Bud Light, caught my attention.  It reminded me of popcorn.

In a study currently under peer review, a team of researchers led by David Neal1 set out to discover if goals and preferences truly control human behavior.  Neal’s team brought in a large group of moviegoers, gave them a bag of popcorn and a bottle of water, and asked them to review movie trailers.  However, the study wasn’t about the movie trailers, it was about the popcorn.

The researchers divided the moviegoers into two groups.  One group got fresh popcorn, made that day.  The other group got a warmed-up bag of stale popcorn that had been made seven days prior to the experiment.  Upon leaving the theater, the bags of popcorn were collected and weighed to assess how much of the 60-gram bag each moviegoer had eaten.  These moviegoers were then given a version of the Self-Report Habit Index to assess how habitually they ate popcorn whenever they went to the movies.

For non-habitual popcorn eaters, the results are unsurprising.  They ate most of the bag of fresh popcorn and barely touched the stale bags.  For the habitual popcorn eaters, however, the amount eaten was high regardless of the popcorn’s freshness.  They chowed down.  Neal’s team then asked the moviegoers to rate the taste of the popcorn.  Amazingly, the habitual popcorn eaters who received the stale popcorn knew the popcorn tasted bad. But they ate it anyway.  Their behavior was completely controlled by the movie theater context, not their taste.

Just to confirm the role of context in habitual behavior, Neal performed the same experiment again, but in a well-lit laboratory using a small-screen television.  This time, the habitual popcorn eaters wanted nothing to do with the stale popcorn.  Only in a darkened theater, surrounded by the sights, smells, and other stimuli their brains had associated with the context, was the habit cued.


January 21st, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions and the Myth of 21 Days

By Kyle Morich

We’re 21 days into the New Year: how are your new habits going?

I felt compelled, like many of us, to come up with a list of resolutions for the New Year.  Some I’ve done well with (enjoying more quality leisure time) and others have been completely ignored (spending less time during the day browsing the web).  Numerous publications and commercial blogs (Lifehacker, for instance) got a lot of mileage in the first few days of 2011 on articles discussing good and bad habits and how to change them.  One of the more frequent pieces of advice alluded to the “21 Day Habit Theory.”  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it originated with Maxwell Maltz’s 1971 self-help book Pscho-Cybernetics that suggested the brain needs 21 straight days of a behavior to make the proper neural connections that allow habits to form.  The idea has stuck around because A) it was a popular book, selling over 1 million copies and B) because it SEEMS right.


October 27th, 2010

Cooking with Cream Cheese: Kraft Plays With Context

By Kyle Morich

There was a time that baking soda was just a crystalline substance that was used in baking to release carbon dioxide and help dough rise.  And then Arm & Hammer got very creative and suggested keeping an open box in your refrigerator to eliminate odors.  And now the uber-substance is used everywhere, from toothpaste to antacids.  We don’t give this a second thought, yet consider this: the same substance you put in your mouth you also sprinkle in your cat’s litter box. That’s marketing, ladies and gentlemen.

We always talk about how Context is a key component to habit formation.  If a behavior isn’t associated with a particular context, that behavior can never become habitual.  But flipped another way, Context can be used to identify tremendous growth opportunities.  By marketing baking soda in the context of odor elimination (or stain-lifting, or whatever), Arm & Hammer expanded the pie and moved their brand out of the Cooking context.  Kraft Foods and their Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand are doing the same thing with their launch of “Cooking Creme.”  This extra creamy version of cream cheese can be added to pastas or other foods to add richness and texture.  Some experienced bakers have known about this versatility for years, but creating a new context for the average consumer has Kraft anticipating a huge uptick in revenue.

Brand managers often think their brand exist in isolation, rising atop a hill awash in the golden glow of the rising sun as their consumers run toward it, extolling their love and joy for the brand and how critical it is to their daily existence.  But the truth is that the consumer world is messy.  Odds are you interact with between 50 to 70 brands before you even leave for work in the morning.  Can you name all of them?  Most of the time, consumers would rather a brand just solve their problems.  We often ask our clients, “Are you the meal, a course, or the ingredient?”  The point is to think about what role a product plays in behavior.  Everyone wants to be the center of attention, but there is big business in being a behind-the-scenes part of a behavior.

Kraft saw a huge opportunity for consumers to start using cream cheese as an ingredient in their recipes, not just as a spread to put on the morning bagel.  Now they still have a tough path ahead of them to make the behaviors in this alternate context habitual.  Consumers will need to repeatedly use the cream cheese product in their recipes, notice the difference, find the difference appealing, and continue to buy the product.  But for recognizing the current Cream Cheese context was saturated and for seeking different contexts for growth, Kraft is at least moving in the right direction.

October 15th, 2010

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

By Kyle Morich

Priming occurs when exposure to some stimulus affects the way you respond to another stimulus.  A classic study of priming by John Bargh (1) examined how exposing an individual to traits and stereotypes from another group affected that individual’s behavior.  Bargh took 30 NYU psych students and had them complete a scrambled sentence test.  Unbeknownst to half of the students, their tests contained words associated with elderly stereotypes (e.g., Florida, old, grey, wise, bingo, retired, etc.).  None of the students had any idea they had been primed with the sentence tests.  What Bargh did next was brilliant, and provided some of the first evidence that what our brains perceive has a tangible impact on our subsequent behavior.  After each student completed his or her test, he timed how long it took for the student to walk down the hall to the elevator.  Bargh discovered that those students primed with the elderly stereotype walked slower to the elevator.

But the curiosities of priming on social behavior don’t stop here.  Bargh’s experiment showed that an individual tends to assimilate the behavior traits of a different group when exposed to stereotypes of that group.  We actually see the opposite effect when an individual is exposed to the traits of another individual.  In a recreation of the Bargh experiment by Dijksterhuis (2), individuals primed with a specific example of an elderly individual (in this case, the Dutch Queen Mother) walked faster than the control group.  This behavioral contrast occurs because our brains implicitly compare its traits with that of the primed example.  We tend to naturally contrast ourselves against individuals we see as different than us. (more…)

October 13th, 2010

Habit Roundup – 10.13.10

By Kyle Morich

A new series of short takes on interesting articles.

Gap’s Logo Misfire (AdAge)

In the least surprising news of the week, Gap, Inc. switched back to its classic logo four days after announcing a new, “evolved” logo to reflect the “changing” nature of the store.  Gap’s sales problems were not caused by consumer confusion about what the logo meant.  Gap never successfully retargeted its brand beyond the “Everybody in Khakis” spots from the mid to late 90s.  I applaud them for undertaking the difficult task of revitalizing their brand image to their target market, especially in the midst of a recession, but they clearly misaligned their priorities.

Changing the image of their clothes, stores, and reputation takes time, and consumers need enough experience with Gap to reset how they view the Brand.  Changing the logo before this process occurs almost feels like cheating, or repainting a rusty car without fixing the damage first.  By changing the logo and announcing to the world “look how much we’ve changed,” the subtle approach was lost.  Gap made consumers consciously consider whether the company had changed, and they responded with a resounding “nope.”


September 30th, 2010

Beyond 70.3: The Habit Vacuum

By Kyle Morich

Last Sunday, I competed in the ESI Ironman 70.3 in Augusta, Georgia.  A half-Ironman, the race was a grueling 1.2 mile swim in the Savannah River, a 56 mile bike ride in the rolling hills of South Carolina, and a 13.1 mile run on the flat city streets of downtown Augusta.  I finished in 4 hours and 57 minutes, beating my goal by 3 minutes, and I consider the athletic feat one of the better accomplishments in my lifetime.

But now it’s all over.  After 4 straight months of training six days a week, swimming 50,000 yards, biking nearly 1500 miles, and running 250 miles in preparation for the five hours of athletic performance, I have nothing to do.  While my body is certainly appreciative of the break, my mind feels very uncomfortable with the whole thing.  Consider the routine behaviors that are now disrupted or eliminated by the abrupt end to my triathlon season:

  • The time I wake up in the morning
  • The type of breakfast I eat
  • The exercise session before work
  • The number of meals I eat during the day, and the types of food I eat
  • The time I leave from work
  • The route I take home from work
  • The exercise session after work
  • The time I eat dinner
  • The time I go to bed
  • The time I wake up on weekends
  • The long training sessions on Saturday and Sunday mornings
  • The daily tracking of my training progress

And so on.  (more…)