Complementing Packaging Research with Neuroscience

We do not think as much as we think we do…


Any pack has a pretty tough ask of it – not only does it need to stand out, be easy to find, communicate the right things, it has to do all this in a tiny amount of time and persuade us to buy. Steve Sands of SANDS research was quoted in the Telegraph reinforcing this point “A single eye movement takes just 200 milliseconds, the time a product in store gets to persuade a shopper to buy it. And it only takes one eye movement to change their behavior.”

From the perspective of the consumer, the task is equally overwhelming – as our head of packaging and design Chris Peach said in our recent joint conference paper at the Packaging and Innovations 2015 show – there are about 40,000 product lines in your average large supermarket and your average consumer buys about 40 products in a 30 minute trip – that means you need to reject about 20 products a second!


This presents us with a puzzle – on the face of it, your average shop means that you need to make an awful lot of decisions, but these are far more than we can make consciously without spending a couple of days wandering the aisles. So how do we do it? Quite simply we do not think as much as we think we do. While we like to think that we are rational shoppers, weighing up each product choice in a balanced and rational manner, the sheer number of decisions we need to make is overwhelming, far more than we are consciously aware of.

In fact our conscious, rational mind is only a small part of the story. Neuroscience has shown us that it is emotion that is at the heart of our decision making.  Traditional thinking models are based around “think” > “do” > “feel” – we thought first, then we acted upon them then we felt – but the sheer weight of decisions we must make means that this is not true.

First and foremost we feel and crucially this happens at a subconscious level, outside of our awareness, then we do and then only if necessary we think. So if we only measure what people do and ask what people think we are missing the biggest part of the picture.

Outside of our conscious awareness, as we browse the aisles our unconscious mind is working away looking for shortcuts to make our decisions quick and efficient. When you see a pack on a shelf, whole networks in our brains start to fire based on memories and emotional processes – all the things that make up the pack – the colour, shape, size, the logo, message, visuals, where it is on the shelf and so on link together in our brain and are combined with other information we may have, advertising, previous experience, similarity with other packs, recommendations and so on.

All of these things (and many more) are the representation of the pack in our brain – and the stronger these networks that are based on memories and emotional processes are the faster and more efficient our decisions.

The only way to gain an insight into these processes is by using neuroscience techniques.  We employ the latest neuroscience techniques to understand how the brain is responding to packs; using brain imaging to understand the emotional engagement of the pack both its design and function, and reaction time testing to explore the strength of connections of these underlying networks.

So how do you ensure that your pack is not rejected? Ensure that it is dialling up all of the most suitable emotional triggers that make it a shortcut to decision making – and in order to do that you need neuroscience.

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Andy Myers
01962 842211
Article date - 27/02/2015
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