How Supervillains Can Get You to Eat Healthier

Most of us are missing daily epic battles between good and evil in our lives. Maybe that's why superheroes and their enemies grab our imaginations so fully, whether it's in a comic book, on a screen, or in a grocery store aisle. This isn't just about hoping for collectible toys in a cereal box — we really might make spending decisions based on story elements.

That's according to Brigham Young University marketing professor Tamara Masters, who has just published research looking into how branding and labeling can affect how we feel about certain foods. In her study, she compared how shoppers responded to "virtue" and "vice" foods, like bottled water or an ice cream bar, that were branded with either a hero or a villain. The results were a little counterintuitive: Consumers were willing to pay more for a "virtue" food being sold by a villain and a "vice" food being sold by a hero.

"If someone wants an ice cream bar and it is packaged with a hero on the label, the kind and benevolent character makes the indulgent product seem less vice," Masters said in a press release. "But a product that is already healthy, like water, would benefit more from villain labeling because it makes the water seem more edgy and exciting."

We already know that using oddball hero Popeye to sell canned spinach is a winning strategy. But if you're really resolving to push yourself on healthy eating going forward, check the labels of boring foods for bad guys — they might know what they're talking about.