Why People Drink Shampoo? Food Imitating Products Are Fooling Brains and Endangering Consumers for Marketing Purposes
A Food Imitating Product (FIP) is a household cleaner or a personal care product that exhibits food attributes in order to enrich consumption experience. As revealed by many cases worldwide, such a marketing strategy led to unintentional self-poisonings and deaths. FIPs therefore constitute a very serious health and public policy issue. To understand why FIPs are a threat, we first conducted a qualitative analysis on real-life cases of household cleaners and personal care products-related phone calls at a poison control center followed by a behavioral experiment. Unintentional self-poisoning in the home following the accidental ingestion of a hygiene product by a healthy adult is very likely to result from these products being packaged like foodstuffs. Our hypothesis is that FIPs are non-verbal food metaphors that could fool the brain of consumers. We therefore conducted a subsequent functional neuroimaging (fMRI) experiment that revealed how visual processing of FIPs leads to cortical taste inferences. Considered in the grounded cognition perspective, the results of our studies reveal that healthy adults can unintentionally categorize a personal care product as something edible when a food-like package is employed to market nonedible and/or dangerous products. Our methodology combining field (qualitative) and laboratory (behavioral and functional neuroimaging) findings could be of particular relevance for policy makers, as it can help screening products prior to their market release – e.g. the way they are packaged and how they can potentially confuse the mind of consumers – and therefore save lives.