The science behind creating package appeal

Today’s retail environment is such a competitive one, where products vie for attention on crowded shelves. How can you make your wine package stand out?

A typical supermarket can have 50,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units), yet consumers usually spend all of three seconds scanning shelves for a product. Getting discovered in such a short time requires packaging that appeals to the senses. Creating this appealing packaging is a science itself, which requires extensive knowledge and insights.

“Package design is very complex,” says Anna Larsson, manager consumer intelligence at Tetra Pak. “There are so many elements to consider and so much depends on the context – the other packages on the shelf, the brand elements, and so on. A designer’s job is to understand all these different pieces.”

To find out more about sensory appeal and how to create attractive and effective packaging design, Tetra Pak conducted a study in 2014-2015 that included desktop research, qualitative interviews with consumers and designers, and consumer observations in stores in Brazil, China, Russia, Turkey, the UK and the US. Tetra Pak also engaged in workshops with diverse groups of experts, among them anthropologists, a professor in aesthetics and a film producer.

“All of these people put their brains together with design studio brains for a good base of findings,” says Larsson, who has been studying consumer behaviour at Tetra Pak for more than ten years and was responsible for the study.

A successful package needs to create four stages of effect, or AIDAS. That is: Attention Interest, Desire, Action and Satisfaction. Knowing your target consumer is vital to achieve this. And, while all senses play a role in the product selection process, it is the package’s aesthetic design that is a key driver when it comes to consumer preference.

Visual appeal can even have an impact on people’s perception of taste, says Larsson. “Even if you have exactly the same wine in two different packages, the more visually appealing package will be associated with better-tasting wine.”

This doesn’t mean that all wine packaging needs to give a luxurious impression, she adds. For example, a box of wine can be designed for summer picnics or an everyday dinner. “It is about communicating the level of quality that corresponds to the product and consumer expectations in your package design,” says Larsson.

Social and cultural context play a key role in how individuals perceive packaging and everything from traditions to politics and the media landscape can influence packaging perceptions. While the global urban middle class tends to have similar cultural references, there are some differences worth noting between regions. In Tetra Pak’s research, for example, Chinese consumers associated images and references to farming on a package mainly with poverty, while in the UK and US the same product was associated with a premium, high quality product.

Colour also plays a key role in attracting attention but again, Larsson says this has to be placed in its context, as it differs from region to region. So, while many consumers are attracted to the calming colours found in nature, these “nature” colours will differ depending on where you live. In Scandinavia, for example, consumers might be attracted to shades of forest green while for people living in dryer, desert climates, the associations to nature are more likely to be felt in shades of brown or red.

Tactile elements, shape and texture encourage consumers to touch a product and when consumers touch a product, the likelihood of a purchase skyrockets. The size of wine and other drink packages also impacts purchasing decisions with some consumers quickly ruling out a large package because it could lead to waste, a key environmental consideration. Or as one Tetra Pak respondent said about a tall package: “It takes so much space. We can’t have it hanging out for a month taking up prime real estate in the fridge.”

What if you already have a recognizable brand, but it is time to update your design? Go ahead, but not too far from the original, Larsson suggests, adding that consumers often do much of their shopping on autopilot. Recognizing a brand logo or its design can help them find it quickly on a crowded shelf.

“Design that is too novel can lead to uncertainty and confusion,” says Larsson, citing the case of a well-known juice brand. “They designed attractive new packaging, but it failed because the design was too far removed from what people identified as the brand. The package still needs to be recognizable so take smaller steps when changing the design of an existing brand package.”

It is also important to keep the packaging message simple so consumers can process the information quickly. Less tends to be more, says Larsson, even to explain a wine’s complex flavour or the depths of its aroma. “Explain your wine in a simple, artistic way.”

Each component in the design process has an individual effect on consumers yet the key is to compose the pieces into a holistic design. In a world where more and more people are suffering daily from decision fatigue, packaging should not only attract and appeal to consumers, but also help them by simplifying the selection process.

Want some simple but concrete tips on how to make your wine packaging more appealing to consumers? Download our short guide.


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