The Man Behind the Measurements

Ryan Elder

Don’t think surveys can make you a star? Think again. BYU professor Ryan Elder’s recent research on sensory experience has been picked up by more than a dozen media outlets across the nation, including Time and Good Morning America. Most recently he was featured in Marriott Alumni Magazine for his research on how the visual depiction of a product can influence consumer decisions. But who is the man behind this masterful measuring?

Ryan Elder was born just around the corner from BYU campus.  His family’s path, however, eventually landed him in South Jordan, Utah, where he attended Bingham High School and attended his first classes on promotion. Even in these early years, Elder set his heart on marketing and advertising.

“I have always liked advertising,” Elder says. “If you had asked me at twelve or thirteen what I wanted to do, I would have said advertising.”

Though the promotional itch followed him into college, his focus changed for a time as he served an LDS Church mission to Poland from 2000 to 2002. Europe proved to be a gold mine of experiences for him.  He was asked to represent the church on the Olympic committee in Poland and was also introduced to Elizabeth, his future wife.

After coming home he ran into Elizabeth at a party with mutual friends. They began dating after that, were engaged that same year, and married shortly after.  Their first child arrived as Elder started his doctorate program at the University of Michigan.

A professor at Michigan working on sensory marketing started Elder on some research that really got him thinking.

“I saw an advertisement for a Butterfinger that had two languages on the packaging, English and French,” Elder says. “I thought, ‘I wonder if that is going to make a difference—not on whether or not people buy the product but if it will make the product taste different to people.’”

He conducted a study which found that people liked the taste of something better if the foreign language on the packaging associated the product with a country consumers expected the product to come from, like Spanish on a salsa bottle. Results from this experiment led Elder to delve deeper into the sensory experience and how it influences people.

His findings were so striking that eventually they showed up in multiple outlets including the most recent issue of Marriott Alumni Magazine. For Elder, research is more than a job; it’s a craving.

“Once you start getting a desire for questions you can address through research, it’s hard not to want to research more and more,” Elder says. “You start looking through the data wondering what you are going to find, and you get super excited. When you get your data back it’s kind of like a nerd Christmas!”

His time at BYU has allowed him to infuse that passion in the students he teaches. Elder says BYU is the number one workplace in his heart because he loves getting to know the undergrads and the faculty in and out of class. The two come together on the intermural field as Elder and his faculty flag football team go head to head with undergraduates each year.

Though football may not be what is making Elder renowned, his work has kept life interesting.  He looks forward to more years searching out answers to marketing’s most interesting questions.

See more of Ryan Elder’s research and findings in “Side Effects.”