Packaging: The Plain Truth?

Last year the Australian government became the first in the world to legislate for mandatory “plain packaging” on cigarette boxes – no branding (beside the name of the brand in a neutral font) and only health warnings and graphic images to be shown on the packs.

Tobacco firms strongly resisted this law, as you might expect. But as a marketer I was excited. The results of this initiative would be vital evidence one way or another in debates about the role of brand and packaging in consumer choice – as well as on the role of marketing in public health.


Well, the first results are starting to come in. Continue reading

Door No.11: The System 1 Pack Test

Today’s experiment in our BrainJuicer Advent Calendar!

The Experiment: “System 1” – the fast, instinctive, often unconscious mode of decision making identified by Daniel Kahneman – is the concept that underpins almost all our work at BrainJuicer these days. If we can use research to understand people’s System 1 thinking, we can get at the real drivers for most of their decisions. Older research methods create an environment in which the more deliberative “System 2” is encouraged – they risk missing crucial factors in decision making.

Of all the experiments we’ve done this year, nothing illustrates this better than the “System 1 Pack Test”. A client came to us with a problem: their brand was consistently outperforming its competitors in packaging research, but was getting beaten at shelf. What was the research missing? The client felt that emotion was the key.

The hypothesis was simple: the competitor’s pack made people feel better.

The competitor was using information-light packaging with appealing visuals which made people’s decision making at shelf simpler than the client’s information-rich packs. System 1 decisions ought to be fun, fast, and easy to make, and the competitor fit this brief better.

But during research, system 2 took over, and the information and rational benefits listed on the client’s pack gave it the edge.

So how to get around this? We decided distraction and time pressure were key. Under pressure, people usually default to an option that comes easily to mind – in this case, the competitor pack, with its simpler, more emotionally appealing packaging.

So we built an online module which gave participants a simulated shelf and then introduced distractions – in the form of tannoy announcements – and time pressure to stop them resorting to considered system 2 assessments.

What happened? Continue reading

Under Pressure

Time pressure is a strange thing. Some people claim they thrive under it, some people say they hate it. And it’s one of the most-studied of what we call “visceral states”, so we know quite a lot about it.

For instance, we know that under pressure your “system 1” processing pushes you towards simpler, or more default options – the first things that come to mind. This would explain a finding like this one, by Theresa Amabile of Harvard – that it’s quite hard to come up with creative or new solutions when under time pressure.

And this is the case even when the person under pressure is an expert – someone whose default option you might expect to be better. This study of chess players, which rated the first move they thought of as well as the more considered options they came up with, found very little difference between experts and non-experts. And for both, the more considered move beat the default one.*

Don’t go for the default – you need to check, mate.

But life isn’t a chess game. What’s interesting to me about the chess study is that for easy problems, the first move thought of might not have been the strongest, but was still pretty strong. Our default options might not always be the best, but they don’t have to be: they ought to be good enough to deal with most issues.

And as we know, in the gap between deliberative best and default good enough, there’s plenty of room for marketers. At BrainJuicer we’ve started putting people under time pressure in packaging research, because it more closely approximates real shopping conditions. It turns out that across a range of brands simpler, more emotionally appealing packaging loses out to informational, message-heavy packs when people have time to consider decisions. But when forced by time pressure to choose the easy option, more go for emotional appeal.

*as the article points out, when you look at the outcomes of whole games under time pressure, not just individual moves, experts DO win out. So expertise can help, probably by triggering better pattern recognition.