|Source: Karen Mordechai|
After writing a few posts on consumption from a marketing point of view, it seems I have involuntarily created a mini-series here. Today's subject has actually been suggested by a reader: packaging, and the influence of an object's presentation in our purchase habits and choices.
First, let me define what I include in the "object presentation". Of course, this includes the packaging - the wrapping, box or container the object is sold in. It also includes the object's design itself - its shape, colour, the shell it is stored in, the form beyond its functional purpose.
The "presentation" of the object should have limited impact on our purchase choices, as it is its container, not the actual object. Take a lipstick for example, no matter what wrapping it is in, no matter the colour or shape of the lipstick cap or brush, what matters is the actual product you put on your lips. Or, is it?
I guess you won't be surprised if I tell you that, on the contrary, packaging has a large influence on our consumption choices. Why else would brands spend so much energy and money coming up with fancy packagings? It is a full part of the brand's marketing strategy, branding universe and identity.
Why are we influenced by packaging, why should we be aware of it and how to minimize that influence to make careful choices as consumers? I would separate the problem in two types of "presentation": the packaging, or wrapping, in which the object is sold but that you throw away at the first use; and the object design, the "shell" or container of the object, that is part of the object itself and you will use every time you use the object.
Packaging/WrappingI think the best type of product to look at when explaining the importance of packaging, is food. Next time you go to the supermarket, go to the aisle of, say, yoghurts, and look at all the colours,images, shapes brands have come up with to differentiate each other and drive the consumer's eyes. That is one of the main purposes of a packaging: it has to catch your eye.
I won't enter into the detail of communication codes and tricks, the one thing to keep in mind is that everything, from the overall shape of the packaging to its colours, the pictures on it, the brand logo, is carefully tested and chosen. Everything is studied to make you like the product based on its box.
I mentioned in the Marketing Targets post that brands create a universe, an identity, a mood they want you to identify with so you can have a link with them, and buy their products. Packaging is a part of that identity. Take a look at an Apple packaging: sleek, white, minimalist, all in line with the overall brand aesthetics.
As a consumer: the brands which universe appeals to you will create attractive packaging for you. However, since we are talking about wrappings and boxes that you will throw away at first use, don't let them fool you. My advice would be to take a look at the actual contents of the object: the ingredients, material, origin... A nice packaging is very pleasant to buy, but make sure the object itself is adequate, too, and that you are not making a purchase mistake just because you like the box.
The Object's Skin/DesignThe second side of an object's "presentation" is its shell, its box, its container. Contrary to the "packaging/wrapping" above, you don't throw these away at first use, they are a part of the object. For example, the mustard container, the laptop plastic or metallic shell, the make-up palette's box and lid.
I have decided to treat it differently, because the object design influences how easy or convenient it is to use, and its overall aesthetics. Aesthetics may be a detail for a wrapping that you get rid of, but when you have the object sitting on a shelf in front of your eyes every day, it might be of bigger importance.
Just like packaging, an object's design is carefully thought by marketing/ R&D teams. The choice of shape, colour etc. is also deeply linked to the brand's overall universe and aesthetics. And like packaging, my first advice is still to check what is actually inside, recall your objective needs and requirements, and make sure the object itself ticks them.
However, I think an object's design is an important part of the experience, and the comfort to use. For example, an ill-designed tea cup that burns every time you pour hot tea in it is deeply inconvenient, no matter how beautiful, or cheap, or ethically produced it has been. In that situation, my advice would be to go to an actual retail store and get to see and handle the object yourself, and check out these:
- First and foremost, does the object meet your objective criteria/needs, regardless of its design?
- Is it going to be practical, easy to use? Will it make your everyday life easier?
- Does it meet your constraints? For example, is that lipstick going to be small enough to fit in your everyday make-up pouch?
- Do you find it beautiful/pleasant to use? Does the object's design make the moment more enjoyable? It can be its fabric, how the touch feels on your skin, how it smells, how it looks...
I believe an adequate object is a mix of both: practical, easy to use, but also enjoyable. With the lipstick example, the product itself has to be the right colour and texture to produce the intended effect on your lips, but the shape of the lipstick tube has to be adapted to how you will use it (will you travel with it or not, what size is your make-up pouch...), and be designed so that the lipstick is easy to put on.
Now, if you have a choice between a "meh" looking object and a nice looking one, why not indulge, but only once all of these criteria above are met. Otherwise, trust me, no matter how beautiful or well packaged the object is, if its unpractical to use, it will be that kind of little annoying detail that will make you stop using it, effectively making it a purchase mistake.