University of Agder, School of Business and Law

Sweet Success: A Co-Created Ice Cream Field StudyUniversity of Agder Logo

This innovative field experiment unites citizens, students, academics, and administrators in co-creation with an ice cream company, challenging prevailing perceptions of dull business research.

Call to Action

Can a font change the flavor of your ice cream? We brought our question to the street and let the people decide. Recent recommendations have underscored the need for researchers at business schools to step out of their comfort zone and do more meaningful research, not just relying on student samples and studies conducted in artificial lab settings. Specifically, studies on real consumers in actual consumption contexts are surprisingly scarce. Furthermore, co-creation between different actors inside and outside of academia, such as between business practitioners, citizens, and scholars, appears to be perceived as a luxury rather than a necessity, despite funding agencies enthusiastically emphasizing such collaborative components.

In this project, we sought to bridge the gap between business practice and academic theorizing by innovatively involving individuals with different backgrounds to co-create knowledge with societal impact. To reach this goal, our field experiment involved company representatives, citizens, university administrators, and researchers from different institutions across Scandinavia.

Our cooperative strategy highlights how close collaboration might yield co-creation of knowledge that may not have been possible with a more traditional scholarly approach. As such, this collaborative approach constitutes a form of creative destruction, where we dismantle the long-standing “lone wolf” practice in academia and replace it with a cooperative innovation method resulting in more meaningful, impactful, and relevant research. Judging by participants’ responses, we have also ignited small sparks of interest in and enthusiasm for research across the community.

Description

During the annual national Science Festival, we conducted a study where citizens were encouraged to taste ice cream in the name of science. We teamed with Southern Norway’s household ice cream brand to design an experiment examining whether the specific typeface on ice cream cups (round versus angular) could change citizens’ taste preferences and selection behavior toward either sweet or sour food alternatives.

The ice cream manufacturer provided us with the equipment and two flavors of ice cream: sour lemon and sweet vanilla. Given the “tasty” topic, our experiment also raised interest among the staff of the business school, many of whom volunteered to participate in the data collection taking place at the city marketplace on a sunny Saturday in September. Our field experiment attracted respondents from all age groups, from young children to senior citizens. The youngest children replied to our questions with their parents, who patiently waited for their turn to taste-test the ice creams.

Apart from winning the best science stand at the festival and collecting amusingly appetizing data in natural settings, the study spurred internal interest at the university. Consequently, we developed the concept further and engaged students to broaden their knowledge of different research methodologies. Results from the first edition of our co-creative field experiment are in the process of being published and shared with relevant stakeholders during a scheduled breakfast seminar.

By developing the field experiment as a co-creative platform, we aim to improve citizen engagement in the school’s research activities.

Impact

The visual style of the written word can convey meanings beyond the word itself. As printed communication has become increasingly important, the visual features of typefaces have undergone much recent research in psychology and marketing. Studies show that round typefaces are associated with sweetness, while angular typefaces are associated with sourness.

In our co-creative field experiment involving citizens, company collaboration, cross-national research cooperation, and administrative assistance, we examine whether angular rather than round typeface on ice cream cups might change consumers’ taste preferences and influence their choice of sweet or sour. If typefaces can indeed be used to regulate people’s food and taste preferences, such an effect would have clear implications for public health, given that the overconsumption of sugar is linked to a wide array of non-communicable diseases and is a key contributor to the obesity epidemic. Through our experiment, it became possible to examine typeface taste effects in naturalistic consumer settings outside the walls of the lab.

Apart from the societal well-being aspect embedded in the project, and its corresponding intended impact on public health, the key innovation lies in the collaborative effort of engaging actors with seemingly disparate duties into a meaningful mix of co-created knowledge that not only could be useful for business practice or theory advancements but has broader societal benefits, as well.

We also hope that the participants’ positive encounter with research has aroused curiosity, leading to interesting conversations around the dinner table and the start of an ongoing dialog about advertising, marketing, and psychology.