Thursday, 20 October 2011

Complexity and acquired tastes

I wanted to talk about acquired tastes.  Those of you who know me well have probably heard me talk about this a few times before.  I've got a hypothesis, a conjecture if you will, as to the nature of acquired tastes.

An acquired taste is something that you try, don't like, but try again and again until you like it.  But this isn't true for all flavours.  Some things you just grow to hate more and more, the more you have them.  I started thinking about this concept a number of years ago when my wife made me tuna sandwiches every day for a month.  I can't stand tuna in any form now.  Just... no.

So I'm sure this phenomenon has a lot of factors, however one thing I'm sure plays into it is complexity.  The more complex a taste is the more experience you need with it to acquire the taste.  The idea is that your brain can't quite wrap itself around the flavour at first, so rejects it.  After learning the nuances, subtleties and so on, you can understand the flavour.  Anyone can drink kool-aid, but it takes a while to develop a wine palette.

Non-Food acquired tastes
The thing is that acquiring of tastes isn't limited to food.  Think about fine art.  Generally when I go to a fine art museum, for example, it gets very exhausting.  I find I have about an hour in me, before I feel I need a nap.  Also it's more comfortable to go to sections that I'm already familiar with. Reading hours of comic strips does not cause this same fatigue.    Complexity. 

Fatigue is also a symptom of encountering composed music (aka Classical, whether from the classical period or not).  Most people I know who are unaccustomed to the genre complain that it makes them sleepy, even if it's a lively piece such as the 1812 overture.  Same phenomenon.  Anyone can listen to Lady Gaga, but it takes time to develop an ear for Brahms. 

Repetition is another interesting aspect of acquired tastes.  Like children who watch the same television show over and over and over again, people who have spent the time acquiring a taste have an appreciation for it and will often listen to the same or similar compositions, and view the same or similar genre paintings.  Because there was an investment of effort required to appreciate the experience, people will stick to what they've learned to like.

Expanding the market
From a marketing point of view, therefore it can be difficult to overcome aversion to acquiring a taste or moving to a new realm of acquired tastes.  Classical composers I know have trouble, for example, getting people to listen to their music - people want to hear Mozart because they know it.  Moreover even classical performers I know have a hard time getting new people to come to a concert, even if they are playing well known pieces. 

Marketing acquired tastes is complicated and requires creativity, because the key is exposure. People need to see the artwork and become familiar with it.  People need to hear the music in various places and learn to like it.  Old bugs bunny cartoons were great for this (Kill the waaaaabit...  kill the waaaaabit)

Grassroots Marketing
The Wine industry has tried reaching a wider audience with wine tasting courses.  They're basically telling people "Here's HOW to like this!"  This sort of appreciation course is useful for any sort of acquired taste.  Music appreciation, art appreciation.  However, to overcome the elitism that is associated with many of these acquired tastes, the movement would have to be smaller scale and accessible.  Art societies hosting appreciation nights probably won't be as effective as having art lovers host appreciation nights in their homes.

I think a quote from Donald Miller I read once is apropos here, "sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself."  What do you guys think?  What other acquired tastes could benefit from appreciation nights?  Tell me in the comments!


Sherri said...

I think wife appreciation courses would be very popular. Especially wives-who-make-their-husbands-lunches-even-though-they-ask-for-tuna-every-day-for-a-month-and-then-complain-they-are-sick-of-it appreciation courses. ;o) Just a suggestion!

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