In the case study on Parmalat milk, how did the principles of perception affect the customer's perceptions of the milk?
Many people in the world drink milk out of a box every day. Long life milk manufactured by Company A is specially processed without any preservatives. The milk has been heated until the bacteria causing spoilage are destroyed and it can last for five to six months without refrigeration.
When Company A first introduced its product, it was expected that customer acceptance would be immediate and high. The product concept sounded good however the actual products sales were extremely low. Customers could not understand the concept of fresh milk in a dry goods box. Some felt that the name of Comapny A sounded like baby formula. In some rural areas, doctors have found that customers perceive the concept of "long life‟ to be pasteurized milk that can be given to new born babies, thus ensuring "long life‟ for their children.
The Gestalt principles of perception include the very powerful Law of Prägnanz. The central idea of this law is that humans have a penchant for summarizing and rationalizing everything; even those things that have no ending nor a rationale.
Additionally, other things are considered as part of our natural need to identify, understand, and bring closure to everything that we perceive:
- the human brain supersedes line with curve (curve dominates)
- similarity, contiguity and continuity- the human brain tends to categorize things (prejudicial labeling), assume that they are a consequence of the other, or believe that because they are similar they have the same origin.
- our brain uses the "principle of scene" that is, we see what we want to see. For instance, what someone sees as a burn mark on toast, another may see as a reflection of the Virgin Mary because it resembles something seen before.
All these facts considered, imagine the shock to the construct of "the traditional milk carton" when Parmalat comes out with milk that has no resemblance to "the traditional milk carton".
This milk (Parmalat)
- is not found in the refrigerator section because it needs no refrigeration. Acc. to Gestalt's principles, then the human brain immediately asks: "then if it does not look like a milk carton...what is it?"
- feels room temperature to the touch; it lacks the wet and cold tactile dimension that a regular milk carton often carries with it
- has a name that derives from the scientific constitution of the milk compared to Borden, for example, which features a happy cow icon that takes the brand name back "to the farm". Borden can be categorized immediately; Parmalat lacks the schema that would have categorized it as fast as humans tend to.
- indicates in the packaging that,in fact, this milk has been tampered with: it has less cream, less fat, more vitamins, etc. Although these are positive things, the traditional (erroneous) construct is that milk comes out of a cow and goes straight into a milk carton. We all know that this is false, but the Gestalt principles block momentarily the immediate connection between farm life and lab life.
- the carton is not a carton but a box. It does not open as easily as the traditional milk carton; this brings the consumer back to the idea that if this milk is so different that it cannot even be opened, then the milk cannot be that good. This is clear contiguity.
- The taste of milk that has added vitamins, and less cream may be a shock to the traditional taste buds. Most people (because of Gestalt) tend to care less about what is good for them and are partial to what they FEEL is good for them (hence, our obesity rates). Therefore, the promises that this product made were outweighed by the traditional flavor, look, and feel of regular milk. Regular milk is one of the most familiar tastes and icons of the staple diet of Americans; to change an extremely familiar concept is a very challenging thing to do.
In all, marketing agencies have to work directly with social psychologists in order to identify the cognitive tendencies of consumers when they choose what they purchase. Parmalat is a good product that, unfortunately, had to undergo a huge breakthrough in the traditional market. This is what made the transition to understanding the product so difficult at first.