At the 2013 ESOMAR Annual Congress today in Istanbul, Dominique Delfaud of Mane Flavour & Fragrance in France and John Pawle of QRi Consulting in the UK discussed using synesthesia to create “a visually interactive experience of flavor.”

Mane, since 1871 a family-owned leader in the flavor and fragrance industry, uses a model of four layers of flavor consciousness to truly understand the power of a flavor:

  1. Familiarity
  2. Liking/disliking
  3. Memories
  4. Emotions


Traditionally, this model has been informed by self-reported data by research participants, but self-reports can only go so far with participants. “They can tell us if they are familiar with a flavor,” said Dominique, “and they are keen to let us know if they hate it or like it! But the memories linked to the flavor or emotions are really deep and not as articulated.”

To dig deeper, John implemented a “sensations methodology,” with 250 iPad interviews with participants, each of whom tasted and rated 6 flavors (rotated from 10 flavors in total), while being facially tracked by the camera in the iPad. “We use the principles of synesthesia, that all the senses work in harmony. The stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to experiences in a different pathways: colors as shapes, music as colors, tastes as textures, and so on.”

Respondents enjoyed the process, which used “fun, engaging visual elicitation techniques, with questions on the iPad and facial coding to measure the initial emotional taste reactions, to get at the System 1 type responses before getting to the System 2 hedonic-liking rating scales.”

flavor as color question

Respondents were asked to answer questions such as:

  • “Imagine you have gone into the world of this flavor. Imagine it is all around and inside you, and imagine that you live in this world. What colors are in this world?”
  • “Imagine the world of this flavor as a material. What does it feel like when the flavor touches you?”
  • What need-state do they associate with the flavor? Need-states were derived from “the semiotic and cultural influences in coffee advertising”: relaxation, energized concentration, pick-me up, social, seductive pleasure, fun and wellbeing. (“Different flavors fulfill quite different needs,” John said.)


flavor as texture question

“We can represent a flavor like a collage board that you might see coming out of a discussion.”

flavor board for vanilla

Participants were also asked to rate a brand using these same questions. “This presents opportunities for interesting portfolio management,” said John, as the brand is contrasted with flavors to show what flavors are evocative of the same colors, textures and need-states as the brand. “This material gives a good verbal readout to brand owners and flavor scientists at Mann on how to optimize flavors.”

brand and flavor affinity

Dominique contrasted traditional self-reported data to a fossil of a pterodactyl, “flat, dry, dull, with just liking, familiarity, and poor verbatims,” while this technique provided “a multi-dimensional image of perception of flavor”, a pterodactyl alive and in flight. “This is really fascinating for flavorists and helps bring their products to life. This type of approach allows us to sneak into our consumers’ minds.”

“Too often,” she said, “brands choose flavors based on poor understanding. This gives them a much richer understanding. It is very useful information for the brand owners. When we think of the crossmodal associations, enhancing the consumer experience, we can align the flavors with the marketing strategy.”

John concluded by discussing the wide range of uses for this technique. “The synesthetic approach has been applied to the centrality of brand experience, shopping experiences, and brand design.”

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.