Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue…Or Are They?
In the UK potato crisp (chips) market, flavours are categorised by the colour of their packaging. Why? This is to act as a mental shortcut to aid consumers in their system 1 decision-making.
Daniel Kahneman coined the terms system 1 and system 2 in his 2011 bestselling book "Thinking Fast and Slow" and this popularised the distinction between automatic and deliberate thought processes.
• System 1 "is the brain's fast, automatic, intuitive approach". System 1 activity includes the innate mental activities that we are born with, such as a preparedness to perceive the world around us, recognise objects, orient attention, avoid losses - and fear spiders! Other mental activities become fast and automatic through prolonged practice.
Example: fast decisions like, buying a bag of potato crisps.
• System 2 is "the mind's slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates". Usually, system 2 activity is activated when we do something that does not come naturally and requires some sort of conscious mental exertion.
Example: considered choices that take time and use reason, like buying a new car.
Back to the potatoes...the table above shows us the most popular flavours in the UK.
With me so far? Logical right? What's not to like?
The biggest manufacturer and brand in the UK (Walker crisps, source Nielsen) 'swapped' the colours of their salt & vinegar (blue to green) and their cheese and onion (green to blue) and this is a PHENOMENON in the UK!
Hold on, what's going on here, did I teleport to a previous time where these two flavours of Walkers crisps were the same colour as the rest of the market?
Many think so, until recently, including myself! I swore that for three decades, Walkers were playing a trick on us by secretly switching the colours. This is such a strongly held belief by many Brits that what we might be witnessing in fact is The Mandela effect playing out.
The Mandela effect got its name when Fiona Broome, a self-identified "paranormal consultant," detailed how she remembered former South African President Nelson Mandela dying in the 1980s in prison (although Mandela lived until 2013).
Broome could describe remembering news coverage of his death and even a speech from his widow about his death. Yet none of it happened.
If Broome's thoughts occurred in isolation, that would be one factor. However, Broome found that other people thought the exact same as her.
Even though the event never happened, she wasn't the only one who felt like it did. As a result, the Mandela effect concept was "born."
Another way to describe the Mandela effect is "collective false memories." A large group of people collectively always say a particular saying or memory a certain way when, in reality, the truth is different from the memory.
And despite the wealth of discussion, mass media coverage and a dedicated and celebrated podcast
, Walkers flatly deny switching the colours, maintaining that their salt & vinegar crisps have always been green, and their cheese & onion has always been blue. They have even stated this in the FAQ
on their website. The Virtual Reality Is More Like Actual Reality
The more logical explanation for anyone who understands branding and packaging, is that Walkers played with the brand code of colour for good reason.
Brand assets, or codes as some call them, are signals to customers. Some are shapes, sounds, logos, or as we have it here, colours. In this case, the market-wide brand code of colour = a particular flavour. By choosing the opposite colours to the status quo, Walkers have made their biggest sellers more distinctive and thus it's become a signature for Walkers over time.
Walkers FAQ on the matter concludes:
"We've no plans to change these designs, as they're signature to our brand." Heck! They even state it in black and white! Or should that be blue and green? Thinking Inside And Outside Of The Box Is A Lesson For Us All
So there you have it. A simple day out at the school fair proved to be a timely reminder about the purpose of packaging, and that I am in fact, not the Incredible Hulk.
There is much to learn for a product marketer regardless of whether you are in a physical or digital domain, lessons and skills that are transferable that will serve you well over the long years of a career.
Stay safe, look after one another.