Dr R. Andrew Hurley on Packaging Design Strategy


I tell my students that while the item inside their packaging is the commodity, it is the packaging that provides the value (while protecting, containing and providing utility of use, of course). However, when it comes to packaging options, many of us seem to separate the product from the packaging and focus on reducing costs. My goal is to demonstrate that packaging is so valuable that selecting the best design, versus the best price, will increase revenue, improve product quality, and positively influence consumer emotions.

You may have heard of the famous taste tests featuring the same drink in a paper cup, aluminum can, glass bottle, and plastic container. The reactions to the flavor of this drink in each of the different containers vary tremendously, which makes sense as the materials are very different and have their own associated taste when pressed against our lips. We have all probably seen for ourselves the difference in taste between the drinks we consume in containers of various materials.

I suggest that the simplest elements of the packaging influence your appreciation of the product and even your mood. We all know too well the impact that a positive or negative experience can have on the whole day. In the vein of taste, emotion, and packaging, I have conducted some research experiments to explore how relatively benign packaging changes can influence the mood and quality rating of a product.

Last year, one of my graduate students studied emotional reactions to product labels. We purchased commercially produced kombucha bottles in three different flavors of the same brand and masked the flavor names so that all bottles looked the same except for the label color: green, yellow and orange. What participants did not know was that the bottles with the green and yellow labels contained the exact same drink.



In the research study, participants tasted each of the three drinks. They declared their favorite flavor themselves on a ballot while their facial expressions were recorded so that their emotional responses could be assessed. Interestingly, their self-reported preference was for the green label over the yellow one. This was confirmed by biometric data when we analyzed their facial expressions and found that the yellow tag had a higher likelihood of eliciting negative emotions. All other factors being exactly the same, green is a better choice than yellow for that specific product, packaged in that specific bottle, for that specific brand. It’s a powerful thing to understand that something as simple as a spot color can make a product taste different and influence the mood of the consumer.

Let me share with you another research study that supports my theory that packaging can affect value. In this study, we performed an eggnog taste test with six samples to taste and evaluate: a “high-end” organic brand, a consumer brand and a less expensive store brand. The first three cups had their associated packaging behind them; the remaining three samples were the same as the first three, but without their associated packaging. The fascinating result is that the participants gave the highest marks to the ‘premium’ brand with its associated packaging, but this same eggnog scored significantly worse than the others when the packaging was not. not included. Packaging design can have a major impact not only on perceived value, but also on the flavor and experience of the product.

What does this mean to you? When designing the packaging for your product, you may want to consider not only its cost, but also how the materiality and design strategy influence consumer behavior. Even if you don’t produce food products, your packaging influences the likelihood of return, product expectations, repeat purchases, and ultimately brand fairness. Will your packaging decision leave a positive or negative impression on the consumer experience?

Packaging is of vital importance to the success of your product. It’s worth the time and effort to create a design that not only grabs attention, but also makes and keeps the promise that it is the best option for your customers’ needs.


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