FOCUS  ON  RESEARCH

Marketing prof's work captures
national media attention

Who, what, why, and how much — Brian Wansink's work on consumer buying decisions has catapulted the Food & Brand Lab at Illinois into the media spotlight. The spring 1999 semester finds the business administration prof featured on network TV and in major consumer publications. And there may be more to come, especially as he has also drawn considerable grant support of late for a varied slate of projects.


An enthusiastic teacher and lecturer —
Brian Wansink clearly loves what he does.

"People use more from larger packages — typically between 9 percent and 36 percent more — because, deep down, they perceive that per-unit cost is cheaper in large packages."

Brian Wansink, marketing professor

Wansink's research focuses on how marketing techniques can influence consumers to buy and use more, leading both ABC and CBS to tap him to do studies on "portion distortion" — how larger portions impel people to eat more. The ABC spot aired Friday, April 2, on "20/20," the network's premier news magazine. It cited Wansink's research on how people eat more M & Ms — lots more, as in 70 percent — when they're served in a larger container. The clip was shot last fall by "20/20" producers and crew, who spent two days at Commerce shooting videotape for the segment. With Wansink on location were two Ph.D. students in marketing and a dozen MBA students. Wansink recalls that one of the producers, clearly impressed, noted "how professional, efficient, sharp, and nice your students are." Wansink happens to feel that way himself. "Nowhere," he says, "would people have waited in the hall until eleven at night just to help clean up and help the camera crews."

For CBS, Wansink and his students did a "popcorn test." Results? People given larger containers ate an average of 44 percent more popcorn — a difference that   weighs in at 120 calories. "If you have it, you will eat it," Wansink told the CBS viewing audience when the segment aired February 18 on "This Morning."

"People use more from larger packages — typically between 9 percent and 36 percent more — because, deep down, they perceive that per-unit cost is cheaper in large packages," Wansink adds. This is an observation he also bases on Brand Lab research concerning package sizes for liquid cleaner, cooking oils, spaghetti, bottled water, and bleaches. Some of Wansink's other research, on marketing manipulation of consumers, has also been cited recently by Family Circle and Psychology Today. For example, one study revealed that changing supermarket signs — from NO LIMIT to LIMIT 12 PER PERSON — impelled shoppers to buy up to twice as many items.

To continue his research, Wansink relies on non-traditional funds. And 1998 was a banner year for him — he received three grants from public agencies and two campus grants, totaling more than $79,000.

Economics is enjoying a kind of two-for-one research special

Having published one work in November, Lee Alston, a professor of economics, expects to see another come out in May. The first title, Southern Paternalism and the American Welfare State: Economics, Politics, and Institutions in the South, 1865-1965, appeared "just in time for Christmas," jokes Alston. "A perfect gift item."  He then more seriously describes its very interesting thesis, that the mechanization of the South directly contributed to the swelling of welfare rolls in the North, through a kind of machinery very different than cotton gins and harvesters — southern Congressional politics. "The common perception is that the welfare state sprang up when Kennedy and his liberal friends took power at the beginning of the `60s," Alston says. "But during the `40s, `50s, and `60s, Southerners on major committees got stronger, if anything. Once cotton was mechanized, they ensured the outflow of blacks by passing welfare legislation with differential benefits in the North." This is a topic that Alston has been researching for twenty years, as an outgrowth of his Ph.D. thesis.The work is co-authored with Joseph Ferrie of Northwestern University.

"Once cotton was mechanized, they [Southerners on Congressional committees] ensured the outflow of blacks by passing welfare legislation with differential benefits in the North."

Lee Alston, professor of economics

Alston's second work — page proofs ready to FedEx back to University of Michigan Press the day he was interviewed for InSight — is to be called Titles, Conflict, and Land Use: The Development of Property Rights and Land Reform on the Brazilian Amazon Frontier. Using survey and census data, Alston and co-authors Gary Lidecap and Bernardo Mueller investigate the determinants and impact of property rights in the Amazon, arguing that insecurity of title leads to lower investment, lower land values, and violence over land. "The book also investigates the political economy — such as the question of why the government doesn't do anything — and offers possible solutions to land problems in Brazil," Alston concludes. 

 

CBA Prof Is Tops

He's the best. Right up there — along with Papa Del's (pizza), Courier Café (restaurant), Neintown Still (band), and Legends (bar) — Fred Gottheil has been rated tops in the "Annual Picks" issue of the Daily Illini. Gottheil, who is professor of economics at CBA, was accorded the distinction of "Best Professor" in the February 3 edition of the DI, which praised him for his "warmth and his storytelling abilities." A native of Canada and alumnus of McGill and Duke Universities, Gottheil has been at Illinois since 1960. Director of the Center for Economic Education, he has consistently won campus and college awards for his teaching. His areas of specialization include the history of economic thought, Marxian economics, the Israeli economy, and the economies of the Middle East.

"For more than 30 years," noted the DI article, "Economics 102 and 103 have been the most popular lectures on campus . . . lecture doesn't end at the
end of the hour — class trips to hockey games and Gottheil's willingness to always listen to his students are all part of the package." The piece went on to observe that not only is Gottheil supportive of his students — the relationship is reciprocal. In particular, students have shown tremendous support for the memorial fund for his son, Josh Gottheil, who died of lymphoma. (For a related story, see Delta Sigma Pi)