What's in a Smile?

We all know what happens when someone asks us to smile for the camera. We pull a somewhat cheesy smile that never looks particularly convincing. But have you thought about the impact these smiles can have if featured on adverts or packaging? Of course, models are far better than you or I at faking convincing smiles, but after a long photo session they can still get it wrong.

How a fake smile can harm a brand

While both fake and genuine smiles look very similar, there are subtle differences between the two. When we pretend to smile all that happens is the cheek muscles contract so that the corner of our mouth moves outwards, but that is it. However, when we smile genuinely, the muscle around our eyes, the orbicularis oculi contracts and produces tiny wrinkles - what we colloquially call ‘laughter lines’. Our smile really does reach our eyes. These small differences allow humans to spot the difference between a genuine and a fake smile. 

So, what has this got to do with marketing or advertising? Previous research has shown that not only are humans remarkably accurate at telling the difference between genuine and polite smiles, but that we are prepared to sacrifice a monetary reward to receive a genuine smile from a complete stranger(5).

If genuine smiles are so powerful, how does it make a difference when it comes to the brands and products shoppers choose? In a randomised experiment conducted in a major supermarket, researchers were able to show that shoppers were far more likely to purchase a product that included a photo where the model has a genuine smile, rather than a polite one. The products that customers could choose from were identical, except that the researchers altered the packaging slightly. On half of the products the model was genuinely smiling, but on the other half, they only had a polite smile - everything else was the same. Yet this small change in the packaging had a significant impact on behaviour. Shoppers were statistically more likely to select the product with the genuine smile rather than the fake smile. 

One small change,
a large impact on sales!

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