America's largest purveyors of fine Easter chocolates think you're dumb, so dumb, in fact, that they think a green label on a pack of M&Ms will trick you into thinking that those M&Ms are somehow good for you. Or at least better for you than other candy-coated chocolates.
According to the Washington Post, a new study found that consumers reacted different to labels displaying exactly the same information if those labels were differently colored. In 2009, Mars (the candy company, not the red planet full of insidious market analysts) introduced "Guideline Daily Amounts" for its confections. The labels were green because, according to Mars, consumers overwhelmingly preferred the green label to, say, a more alarming red label. Green reminds one of conifers and afternoon naps in a glade. Red, on the other hand, is the color of panic. If a single color could represent freaking out about eating a baker's dozen bags of M&Ms, red would be that color.
Cornell University researcher Jonathan Schudlt wanted to know if people really preferred the green label, so he conducted the following study:
Schudlt came up with two other labels that replaced the green color with a red one. He then ask study participants, viewing the two different colors, how healthy they thought this candy bar was compared to other offerings. On a scale of 1 to 9, the candy bars with a green label ranked as healthier than those with a red label, despite all other data (the picture, the nutrition information) being held constant.
Study participants, believing perhaps that a green label announced Mars' new line of spinach-infused M&Ms, preferred green labelled candy to red labelled candy. Marketing, in case you haven't already come to this conclusion, is one giant exercise in misleading consumers. Just ask anyone who ever bought Cookie Crisp hoping that they were getting a cereal made of chocolate chip cookies and not chocolate chip cookies made into a cereal. Yes, there is a difference.