Golden syrup pooling in a bowl of steaming oatmeal. A chocolate cake coated in a gleaming dark chocolate glaze. Heaps of pink shreds of pork and ribbons of crispy potatoes.
Do I have your attention now?
That’s the wonder of food. You can be in the worst mood, in the middle of a monotonous meeting, or not even hungry at all, but the sight, smell, even sound of your favorite dish can elicit deep-seated emotions.
Food carries huge emotional power. It sparks our nostalgia, summoning memories of baking with our grandmas and celebrating with our friends. Even a humble cracker can trigger elation if it takes our senses back to a special time.
That’s why food is one of the best tools in a communication team’s arsenal.
The power of food-based messaging
Food has a dominating presence in society. After housing and transportation, Americans spend the biggest chunk of their paychecks on food, and that figure has been steadily rising. We don’t just love to eat; we love to host, to cook and to share our food in increasingly diverse ways.
On Instagram, we feast publicly: The hashtag “#food” has almost 350 million posts—and that number grows by the second.
IHOP’s famous 2018 “IHOb” campaign is one example of how much food catches the attention of the public—especially the media. Last June, IHOb appeared in an astounding 20,000 stories. It produced at least 36 billion earned media impressions, and thanks to the buzz on social media, its potential reach skyrocketed to more than 4 billion. The campaign went viral, and IHOP sold four times as many burgers as a result. People notice food, and they remember it.
Food is so emotive that food-based messaging can persuade consumers—even when the product or service has nothing to do with eating. Clever campaigns use food imagery to illustrate and draw attention to every kind of product.
Cosmetics brands, for instance, have been using food names, scents, and imagery to sell blush, lipstick and mascara to women worldwide for decades.
In a campaign for its smart kitchen appliances, Samsung created a campaign around a dating service called Refrigerdating, where individuals can swipe left or right based on the contents of potential suitors’ fridges. Though it’s unclear whether any long-term matches will result, the campaign was a magnet for every lifestyle site and blogger who wanted to share opinions about the idea.
The nonprofit world has also caught on to food-based storytelling. For instance, One Love Foundation, an organization that educates people about healthy relationships, released a campaign around Valentine’s Day 2019 that used the eye-catching image of a chocolate box to stimulate a conversation about toxic relationships.
How to master food PR in 3 steps
Food can add emotion and relatability to your message, but you can’t just snap a quick shot of a cupcake and expect it to elevate your content. Here are three ways you can craft a campaign around food to create a memorable impact that fits your brand:
1. Follow your nose. Food may be universal, but according to consumers’ changing lifestyles and preferences, certain messages will stand out better than others. Follow consumer trends to create the most effective content, display it on the most relevant channels, and target it to the people who will love it most.
For example, many small consumer packaged goods brands are making waves by offering direct-to-consumer services. These smaller brands know that convenience is their biggest selling point over larger retailers, and they stay on top of consumer trends to get customers the products they want most in the easiest way—by shipping it right to their doors. These brands recognize the need for a strong digital advertising strategy to draw consumers in and get them to subscribe online.
2. Don’t overlook the less obvious feelings. Food evokes nostalgia and comfort, but that’s not the full extent of its powers. Consider appealing to the less obvious sensations that food conjures in people.
For example, Snickers’ longstanding “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign illustrates the irritability that can arise when we’re hungry—or “hangry,” as it’s been dubbed. Because everyone can relate to such pangs, Snickers’ messaging connects with people across all demographics.
3. Be wary of negative connotations. For conscious consumers, the food industry stirs serious concerns, and brands should be aware of them while creating campaigns. One major issue surrounding food is transparency in food sources: Consumers show deep concern for where their food comes from. News of blockchain demonstrates how the food industry has evolved to meet consumer expectations. Leaning into the unique ways your brand is offering transparency will forge trust and help build brand love.
You can appeal to consumers’ emotions by carefully crafting tasty campaigns. Whether you’re selling furniture, services or actual burritos, listen to the preferences and concerns of the market, and see how you can tell a compelling brand story with food.