How Advertising Influences Food Choices

Advertising Influences Food Choices

31 January 2014

Written by Jennie Bayliss

We don’t like to admit that advertising influences food choice—but I think both consciously and subconsciously it does. Food manufacturers also determine, to a large extent, our portion sizes by providing food in set sizes – which may be too big for what we need. And I know for sure that the brands pay a lot of attention to the aspirational lifestyle that is attached to their product. For example, the Diet Coke ads typically show a slim, flirtatious, funny, attractive women easily attracting the attention of a hunky man. Today I’d like to show you how advertising influences food choices and how we can become more in control of what we choose.

Everyday you are bombarded with literally dozens and dozens of different food choices. Walk down your high street, watch TV for just half-an-hour, pop into your local supermarket – and you will see just how pervasive and persuasive food advertising is. No wonder we are so easily drawn into making choices based on the advertising messages so cleverly put across to us.

So how do we change—how do we get back into control? Firstly know a little more about food selling psychology. We are all attracted to objects that are bright red and yellow. Red heightens our awareness as it is so associated with danger whilst yellow is associated with sunshine and happiness. So supermarkets and food packaging use red and yellow to draw our eyes to the food and/or deals they are making. This classic popcorn poster is a typical example of how advertising influences your food choices. The red and yellow background draw your eye towards it like a magnet. The yellow sunburst and its radiating lines out from the popcorn gives the impression of sunshine happiness – but the killer is the tag line: “Buttery Fresh”. Your brain is hardwired to like both sugar and fat and so simply triggering the idea of eating butter, if you were to eat this popcorn, makes your mouth water and the word “fresh” is not random either for at a basic level we know that fresh food is better for us than old, stale food. Please know that advertising food is very sophisticated: it’s never just about a pretty picture.

Knowing all of this creates a dilemma because if we consciously had to make every decision about food, nothing would get done! And yet, our unconscious eating habits may be having a terrible impact on our waistline as well as our health.


The majority of food manufacturers and supermarkets are primarily wanting to make money. Apart from some notable exceptions, the vast majority of brands selling “healthy” and “low-fat” foods are far more interested in how much they can sell to you rather than helping you become and stay slim. If they can sell larger quantities of food to you, this means they can make more money. With this in mind they use many different psychological tactics including special offers, selling bigger sizes, product placement, the colour and shape of the packaging even using fear as a motivator (e.g. foods to reduce your cholesterol). Mostly we are totally unaware of how our food is ‘sold’ to us because they have made it oh so easy to put another packet of food into your trolley. There are thousands of ways they do this, but let me share just a couple with you so you can buy with your eyes wide open.

‘Buy one—get one free’ offers are often just a way of off-loading excess stock, but if you buy more, will you then eat more? Supermarkets know the answer is usually ‘yes’. How do they know? Because they track what you buy, not necessarily individually (loyalty cards tell them so much about your buy habits!), but collectively. They know certain foods, like bakery items, crisps and biscuits can be sold in multiples and they don’t effect your next week’s shop.

Next time you visit your supermarket, go with new eyes. Look-out for the deal placed at the doorway: they know that if you succumb to this, you will buy more than intended. So if it’s not on your list—don’t be tempted. Look at the packaging of the foods you pick-up – how much is it influencing your purchase. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but every day you make a better, wiser choice, you are one step closer to a healthier, slimmer body.

On my Eat Well—Be Well programs, I teach you how to make much better food choices; how to avoid food being ‘sold’ to you; how to choose food that is nutritionally better for you, which foods will give you real energy versus highs and lows and how to eat more naturally for permanent weight loss.

Eat Well—Be Well 🙂

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