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When your packaging should surprise consumers—and when it shouldn't

When your packaging should surprise consumers—and when it shouldn't
Your package has got to feel right to consumers, on so many levels.

When packaging information from two different senses conflicts, a feeling of surprise can be evoked. Such a mismatch in packaging can be leveraged by certain brands—but not by all.

Visual cues in packaging can undoubtedly go a long way toward drawing the attention of a consumer to a product. We know, for example, that where a company’s logo is placed on the package leads to brand recognition in the mind of the consumer and appropriate placement evokes positive feelings toward the product.

Sight, however, is not the only sense that packaging design can appeal to. Consumers interact with products on the shelf using input from all the senses (sight, touch, sound, smell and taste), and certainly many retailers leverage sensory marketing to sell products.

Food samples, for example, leverage sensory input from taste to persuade consumers and are known to boost sales by as much as 2,000% in some cases.

Interestingly, however, other sensory cues can also be leveraged by packaging.

When packaging information from two different senses conflicts, a feeling of surprise can be evoked. For example, an object that is shaped like a lemon but smells like coffee could create a mismatch of sensory information that would be a source of surprise.

Such a mismatch in packaging can be leveraged by certain brands. Consumers often attribute personalities to brands. Exciting brands are expected to surprise, and so any sensory mismatch that produces this effect is likely to improve desirability.

Interestingly, such a mismatch has a different effect on brands that are perceived to be sincere. Sincere brands are seen as predictable and loyal, and recent research indicates that the surprise caused by a sensory mismatch does not always reward these brands.

Read more about this research at http://jcr.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/03/15/jcr.ucw003.

Aparna Sundar, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of marketing at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon. This article is based on a research article that will appear in a forthcoming (June 2016) issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

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Interested in packaging design? Find inspiration at EastPack 2016, June 14-16, in New York City.

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