Good-looking packaging design – such as the curvy Coca-Cola bottles or the Altoids mints tins – significantly increases the likelihood that a consumer will choose the product even if it is more expensive and an unfamiliar brand, a USC study has found.
“Consumers appreciate and are willing to pay more for something that is new and different and visually pleasing to them,” said Martin Reimann, the study’s lead author and a USC doctoral candidate of psychology.
The implications of the power of aesthetic packaging could level the playing field for new products entering a competitive market and suggest that investing in beautiful packaging pays off, Reimann said.
The paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology combined traditional research techniques with neuroscience.
While performing standardized tasks used to measure preference, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was administered as participants chose different products. Using fMRI to locate the neural underpinnings of aesthetic packaging is virtually nonexistent in the literature, Reimann said.
Researchers found that people experienced attractive packaging as a reward. Similarly, the neural mechanisms in the brain associated with the experience of reward showed increased activation when participants chose aesthetic packaging.
This suggests that the experience of reward – associated with cash, delicious food and alcohol – plays an important role in choosing objects that are visually pleasing. And this brain activity is triggered even before the package is chosen – the same as ordering red wine or seeing a wad of cash.
“When you perceive what you want, you are instantly rewarded, even before you pick,” Reimann said.
“This may sound like manipulation, but it’s also a win-win,” Reimann said. “The company can make more sales, but the consumer also feels rewarded. We should be aware of the reaction a beautiful design can have, whether it is art, architecture or a water bottle.”
While products purchased solely for their intended use may lose their appeal, products with aesthetic qualities may be treasured long after their functional value fades, Reimann said.
Think of the empty blue glass bottles of Ty Nant mineral water that often hold flowers in cafés or the collectible soda cans that commemorate the Olympics or the Super Bowl.
“Companies may pay more for design or package, but people choose those products and they sometimes keep the package,” Reimann said.
Reimann recently was awarded the C. W. Park Young Contributor Award by the Society for Consumer Psychology for the article.
In addition to Reimann, Judith Zaichkowsky of the Copenhagen Business School, Carolin Neuhaus of the University of Bonn, Thomas Bender of Linde AG and Bernd Weber of the University of Bonn were co-authors of the study.
The Hasso Plattner Foundation provided support for parts of the study.