Teaching an Old Brand New Tricks

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For years, Americans have been concocting new uses for old products, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes just to brag to the neighbors. They've cleaned bathroom tiles with bleach meant to brighten their laundry. Or munched cereal straight out of the box as a midnight snack. At the very least, they've probably used a box of baking soda, lurking in the back of their fridge, as an air freshener. Now a new study out of the University of Illinois Food & Brand Lab pinpoints who's most likely to look for ingenious ways to use stuff.

Home-grown innovators are often described as health-conscious, thrifty, time-starved, adventurous, and female, says Professor Brian Wansink, director of the Food & Brand Lab. In fact, more than 27 percent of study participants identified Mom as chief experimenter. Many consumers don't use products in radically different ways than those for which they were intended. It could be as simple as substituting yogurt for sour cream in a recipe. Roughly 26 percent of respondents said they're likely to use food in a new way because it's a healthy alternative - eating unbuttered popcorn instead of potato chips, for example. Thirty percent said they use cleaning products for alternative tasks because they're readily at hand, and 28 percent use health and beauty items in different ways if it saves money.

But how do people discover these novel solutions, like washing windows with vinegar? One in five consumers prefer the trial-and-error method, while another 40 percent turn to friends and family for secret tips. Advertising on a package or label is the most effective way for a company tosuggest new uses for a product. "Placing the new use directly on the package drastically increases the chance of its adoption," Wansink says.

For more information about the study, call the Food & Brand Lab at (217) 244-0208 or visit www. consumerpsychology.com.

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