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Is less more? Examining the consumer trend toward minimalist packaging
By our News Team | 2023
Simple packaging can infer that a product has fewer ingredients and is purer – and therefore justifies a higher price. But not always.
Researchers from three US universities have published a new Journal of Marketing article that examines the consumer trend towards minimalist packaging in consumable products.
The study is titled ‘Symbolically Simple: How Simple Packaging Design Influences Willingness to Pay for Consumable Products’ and is authored by academics from Texas Christian University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and University of Georgia.
Photo by Markus Winkler from Pexels
Designing products is both an art and a science. Companies have found that bringing together many visual elements in product design – with multiple colours, text, and illustrations incorporated in the packaging – can lead to enhanced brand engagement. However, in the last few years, consumers have increasingly desired more minimalist aesthetics.
The researchers examined over 1,000 consumable product packages from the largest supermarket chain in the US and found that the simplicity of the packaging design is positively associated with price.
As researcher Lan Anh N. Ton explains: “in a series of experiments, we show that the visual design of a product can hold symbolic meanings to consumers. Specifically, although there is no information about the product’s composition on the package, we find that consumers assume that the simplicity of the product package signals that there are few ingredients within, which enhances perceived product purity.”
However, simple packaging does not always enhance consumers’ willingness to pay.
“We find that store-brand products are not likely to experience the same benefits of simple packaging as non-store brand products,” explains researcher Rosanna K. Smith.
“This is likely because the simplicity of the product package aligns with consumers’ default assumption that store brands invest less in product quality. Thus, the simplicity of store-brand packaging likely signals a lack of investment in the product rather than few ingredients and product purity.”
Adds researcher Julio Sevilla: “We also find the preference for simple packaging depends on consumers’ goals. When consumers have a health goal, they are more likely to pay for a product with simple packaging. This is because simple packaging conveys that the product contains few ingredients and high product purity, attributes that tend to be associated with healthy products.
“By contrast, when consumers seek to indulge, they are less willing to pay for products with simple packaging. This is because complex packaging signals many ingredients and low product purity, attributes that tend to be associated with unhealthy and, by extension, tasty products.”
This research provides several insights for marketers:
- Simplifying package design can be an effective way for brands to visually (and non-verbally) communicate key product information to consumers. Simple packaging can lead consumers to infer that the product has fewer ingredients and is purer, thereby enhancing their willingness to pay.
- Aligning the visual design of the product package with ingredient information is essential to make a positive impact on consumers.
- Managers may consider the specific brand when using simple packaging because positive inferences are less likely to occur for store-brand products.
- When managers want to signal that their products are indulgent, opting for more complex designs could be more effective.
You can read more about the research here:
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