The Red Bull Effect: How product names impact behaviour

New research has found that people act and feel drunker when told they are drinking vodka and Red Bull rather than just a vodka cocktail. With yet another suggestion that customer behaviour is impacted by the names you give your product and services, let’s look at the role of language and framing in maximising conversion.

Red Bullish

Splitting 154 males into three groups, researchers at the INSEAD Sorbonne University in Paris gave one group what they called a “Red Bull and vodka cocktail”, another, a “Vodka cocktail” and the final group, a “Fruit juice cocktail” before letting them loose on a range of tasks. The trick was all three cocktails were contained exactly the same ingredients – the only thing different was the name.

And boy, did that make a difference!  Those in the Red Bull and Vodka group believed themselves to be 51% more intoxicated, expressed more confidence in approaching women and were more likely to demonstrate risk-taking behaviour when gambling. When offered money to inflate a virtual balloon in a computer game, men in the Red Bull and Vodka  group were more willing to risk pumping till it burst, forfeiting their winnings. It wasn’t all bad news though, as these men were also willing to wait an extra 14 minutes on average before driving.

What does this tell us? Behaviour is impacted by how messages are framed. In this case, Red Bull is synonymous with extreme behaviour and those expectations become self-fulfilling.

But not only does Red Bull have this type of placebo effect. People have also been found to believe a branded, more expensive paracetamol is more effective than the home brand variety, and that eating in a “healthy” fast food outlet means they consume fewer calories than they really do.

Implications for you

Understanding how to frame your message is vital to influencing customer behaviour.  One restaurant, for instance, was able to increase sales by 27% by simply changing the name (not the recipe) of its broccoli to the more delicious-sounding “seasoned Asian broccoli”. Almost twice as many people prefer surgery that promises an “80% chance of survival” than the same surgery with a “20% chance of mortality”.  And next time you’re in the yogurt aisle, consider whether you’d prefer to buy 97% fat free or the 3% fat variety.

Every time you interact with your customer you are making a choice about how you can express yourself in the most advantageous way. Unfortunately, rates of conversion suggest that most have been doing it wrong. Whether you are communicating face to face, over the phone, through your website, in an email, marketing campaign or invoice, learning how to frame your message is your key to success.



Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Keen
4 years ago

Thank you for the insight Bri. And yes the placebo effect appears to occur with almost everything. Mind over matter… guess that’s why we still buy the brands