Biomotivation: What Your Package Says About You

It doesn’t take a design degree to appreciate that curvy shapes (a baby’s bum, for example) appeal to consumers differently than jagged edges (like thorns or shark fins.) But Simon Preece, director of effectiveness at Elmwood, a brand design consultancy, says the increasingly chaotic supermarket environment makes it more critical than ever for brands to make product packaging a core element of its DNA.

“We know that a consumer can spend 40 minutes in a typical shopping trip, and come out having only read seven words on packaging. Until companies learn to build a sense of calmness around their message, they just can’t connect effectively.” Preece, working with such clients as Walmart, P&G and Kimberly Clark, tells Marketing Daily more about packages and messaging.

Q. What’s the biggest obstacle for CPG companies right now?

A. There’s so much noise and commotion in stores. And marketers will always say, “I want to tell consumers everything about my product, and I want to say it right on the package.” Now that we’ve got the eye-tracking research and a better understanding of the way the more instinctive part of the brain reacts, we can convince them that by creating a sense of quiet around their brand, they have a better chance of being heard. Design offers cues we can use to make shoppers feel something, and make products more commercially successful. Method is a really good example: The packaging conveys a sense of purity, style, calm and minimalism -- all-important to the brand.

Q. What’s the best way for designers to get that message through to marketers?

A. Start with students. I’m a lecturer at Bradford University in the U.K., and one of the reasons is that it’s important for future marketers to learn some of these design principles now.

Q. You refer to many design elements as biomotive triggers. Explain, please.

A. The idea is that everything in design -- from the logo to the package to the color to the type -- triggers an instinctive response. They are sensory cues that affect our subconscious, generating emotion and action even before the conscious part of our brains has a chance to react. They have a big impact on shoppers, affecting whether we approach or avoid a brand, whether we like it, even whether we think it should be cheap or expensive. 

Q. So you mentioned cusps and curvy shapes. What else?

A. Eyes. They demand our attention—when something looks at you, you look back, if only to make sure it isn’t going to eat you. We recently had a big success redesigning Andrex, a Kimberly Clark brand, in the U.K. It’s used a puppy on its packaging for a long time. But by changing the old puppy, who looked busy and away from the shopper, to a close up of its face, sales gained 15%. Because the puppy is looking up at you, you feel responsible for him. It’s an emotional plea.

Q. What makes this new?

A. It’s not. Designers have always done a lot of this, intuitively. Curves make us feel safe. Cusps suggest danger. Research has just made it more effective, and given us more to talk to clients about.

Q. What about color?

A. It’s so important. We respond in an elemental way. Black and yellow signal danger, and poison, which is why we use them in constructions and warning signage. Coca-Cola’s red is an agitated warning color, which helps it stand out. Purple, because it is so rare in nature, even in birds and flowers, is a color we imbue with a sense of premiumness -- like the Catholic church, or royalty. Women have a much more comprehensive understanding of color than men. They'll have as many as 30 words for a color, with men it’s more like six or seven. But it all happens in context. Black is a color often used to suggest a premium product, but at some point, it becomes funereal.

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