Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Behavioural economics and wine

Loftus and Palmer had two theories for what caused participants to report the cars described with these verbs as having crashed faster. 1. Response bias . Loftus and Palmer theorized that the words used led to what is known as a response bias: the specific word used is causing the participant to give a biased response. 2. Memory representation . This theory supposes that the words led to an alteration in the memory of the participant, and this is what led them to report the results differently. The first of these theories is particularly key to applications in marketing. It demonstrates how easily human brains can be altered into thinking different things through subtle shifts in language. This is useful in the field of wine, where introduction of descriptive elements about a bottle could enhance the experience for tasters, by merely suggesting ideas. This is partly why it is now common to see tasting notes on the back of wine bottles: by suggesting a wine is ‘ oaky ’ , typical consumers are more likely to pick up on this. And using specifically selected adjectives is likely to have a positive effect. There is another side to this, however. Producers need to be very particular with the words they use and ensure they add tangible information. Professor Dan Jurafsky warns in his 2014 book The Language of Food that adding words such as ‘ delicious ’ and ‘ tasty ’ makes the product feel inferior. These are terms used by cheap restaurants and make it appear as if they are trying to convince you. In fact, he calculated that these words lowered the average price of a dish by 8 cents. This demonstrates the importance of carefully considering language for winemakers and restaurants. Describing provenance A reliable method used by expensive restaurants is to include the provenance of an item, for example ‘ Chilean sea bass ’ rather than ‘ sea bass ’ . The origin of a food item is important, especially with wines as this dictates part of their flavour. A Cornell University study looked at how provenance of wine affected how it was rated by consumers. Forty-one participants were given a free bottle of wine labelled as either bring produced at ‘Noah’s Winery in California’ , an area known for its wine production, or at ‘Noah’s Winery in North Dakota ’ . Both wines were the same. The participants who believed they were drinking the Californian wine rated the wine tasting better. Furthermore, they ate 11% more of their food, rated the food as tasting better, and were more likely to book a return reservation. Despite the wines being identical, the belief that they were drinking a wine they personally identified as more prestigious led to a better experience for consumers. This clearly displays that expectations for a wine have a large effect on how it is perceived (Wansink et al., 2007). This study was led, however, by Brian Wansink who has since had some of his academic studies discredited, owing to a lack of evidence. There is, however, more evidence to support these particular ideas. Jurafsky’s The Language of Food strengthens this case, finding that mentioning the origin of ingredients is 15 times more frequent in expensive restaurants. This evidence demonstrates restaurants should include descriptions of the provenance of their wine on the menu, as well as adjectives and descriptions that give more detail about the product. This is especially true for wine, as menus can offer tasting notes that both enhance the perceived quality of the product on paper as well as allowing customers to explore more in-depth flavours.


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