Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

0109 PD: Editorial: Luxury milk may be our greatest ally

Published on 23 December 2008
I recently finished reading Buyology, a fascinating (and sometimes frightening) new book about neuromarketing – how marketing influences our brains and purchasing decisions.

No, I’m not getting paid for talking about the book. In fact, I picked it up on my own without any book publisher’s prompting.

However, I think the author, Martin Lindstrom, shows something everyone in agriculture should pay attention to.



In the closing chapter of the book, Lindstrom cites research from Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the scientific measure for neuromarketing, to analyze how consumers reacted to an increase in price for red wine.

The study found that an increased price in wine resulted in more activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the area of our brain that registers pleasure and enjoyment for taste.

In short, people who paid more for a beverage not just believed or said they liked it more, which is how they may have responded if surveyed, but their brains actually made them feel more pleasure from consuming the higher-priced product.

One of the Cal Tech researchers Antonio Rangel said of the results, “I can change the activity in the part of the brain that encodes for subjective pleasantness by changing the price at which you think the product is sold, without changing the product.”

(See the entire article summary at


In light of last year’s buzz about the good milk versus bad milk battles and niche market/rBST labeling issues, I added the italic emphasis to highlight why marketers are interested in selling higher-priced products that have no chemical composition difference to their lower-priced companions.

It’s because consumers psychologically enjoy consuming the higher-priced products more. There’s no logical rationale about it, but it’s reality, and scientifically proven.

“It is something that can be exploited by marketing but has not been created by marketing,” Rangel said.

That’s the scary part. Now here’s the opportunity.

fMRI research also showed that consumers who were presented with luxury items and their original prices had an increased level of psychological enjoyment when purchasing the same product at a lower price.

Who doesn’t like getting the best for less? This is where the dairy industry’s opportunity lies.


Convince consumers that while they can purchase special-labeled milk and feel good about it, they can be even more pleased when they purchase the same quality product, which has no chemical composition difference, for less. Special labels will not be going away.

There’s a thrill in buying them for some. The greater opportunity is in communicating that all milk is healthy, nutrition-rich and produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way, and it’s priced for less, if you want it. PD

Walt Cooley