Consumers usually don’t process information about a stimulus (a brand name, a package, etc.) in isolation. Instead they look for cues that enable them to identify similarities with other stimuli. This process allows them to assign a stimulus to a category so that they can more efficiently compare it to other members of that category. Often the category they choose determines whether a product will succeed. For example, a frozen dog food product failed because shoppers saw it in the store’s freezer section and didn’t identify it as dog food. I discuss this at length in my Consumer Behavior textbook: www.michaelrsolomon.com/about/
A study that examined how consumers use calorie information demonstrates why the categories (or schemas) we use to define products are so important. When people saw menus that listed the calorie count of individual items, they chose more dietetic items. However, when the lower calorie items were grouped into a single “low-calorie” category on the menu, diners actually selected them less frequently.
The researchers explain that consumers have negative associations with low-calorie labels, so they’re more likely to dismiss these options in the early stages of the decision process. As a result individual items are less likely to make the cut into diners’ consideration sets so ironically this menu information results in less healthier choices overall.
As is often the case with consumer behavior, the way an offering is presented carries a lot of weight.