No evidence that consumption and reward words on labels increase the appeal of water

Abstract

Many people consume too much sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and would benefit from drinking water instead. Previous research has shown that taste and reward expectations play a key role in food and drink choices, and that thinking about drinks in terms of consuming and enjoying them (i.e., simulations) predicts desire and intake. Here, we examined whether labels using consumption and reward words increased the appeal of water. In three pre-registered experiments with regular consumers of SSBs (N = 1355), we presented numerous different labels of fictitious water brands with words related to the rewarding consumption experience of water (e.g., “refreshing”, “cool”), with conventional descriptions of water that emphasised its origin and purity, or with brand names only. We assessed anticipated reward of water, desire for water (Exp. 1, 2, 3), simulations of drinking water, and water attractiveness (Exp. 2 and 3). Contrary to our expectations, waters with consumption and reward-focused labels were not rated more favourably than waters with conventional labels, but both were rated higher than brand-only labels. Our findings suggest that the appeal of water cannot easily be increased by emphasising the rewarding consumption experience through language only, possibly because consumers may have a relatively fixed representation of what water tastes and feels like. Future research could test interventions that include stronger sensory information such as images to increase the appeal of water among SSB consumers.