The Power of a Smile

We all know what happens when someone asks us to smile for the camera. We pull a somewhat cheesy smile that never looks particularly convincing. But have you thought about the impact that these smiles can have if featured on adverts or packaging? Of course, models are normally far better than you or I at faking convincing smiles, but after a long photo shot, even professional models can get it wrong.

While fake smiles and genuine smiles can look very similar, there are subtle differences between the two. When we pretend to smile all that happens is the cheek muscles contract so that the corner of mouth moves outwards, but that’s it. However, when we really do smile, the muscle around our eyes, the orbicularis oculi contracts and produces tiny wrinkles around our eyes, what we normally know as ‘laughter lines’. The smile really does reach our eyes. These small differences allow humans to spot the difference between a genuine and a fake smile. (If you want to see if you can, take this BBC online test here).

So, what has this got to do with marketing or advertising? Well, previous research conducted at Bangor University has shown that not only are humans remarkably accurate at telling the difference between genuine and polite smiles, but that we are prepared to sacrifice monetary rewards in order to receive a genuine smile from a complete stranger.

So if genuine smiles are so powerful, how could they be used in product packaging? To answer this question, Shopping Behaviour Xplained (SBXL) conducted an experiment in conjunction with a leading FMCG brand. Products were selected for this experiment that included photos of people smiling on the packaging. However, they altered the packaging slightly so that half of the models contained genuine smiles and half contended polite smiles.  This meant that customers had a choice between two products, both identical except for the smile the model was pulling.  Yet this small change in the packaging had a significant impact on consumer behaviour. Consumers were statistically more likely to select the product with the genuine smile rather than the fake smile. One small design change, a large impact on sales!

If you have any questions about this research or want to know more about the science behind this research, please contact either Shopping Behaviour Xplained ([email protected]) or Gareth J. Harvey, PhD at the Laboratory of Consumer Psychology: Bangor University.

To find out the latest consumer psychology news, follow Dr. Gareth Harvey on twitter: @garethjharvey or subscribe to our mailing list below.

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