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The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

A Surprisingly Simple Way To Make Food Packaging More Appealing

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Larger food images on a product’s packaging increase its attractiveness, but only for tasty products.
  • Application:
    The sales of vice products can be boosted by increasing the on-pack size of food visuals. Alternatively, diminishing food image size by regulation may be an effective nudge to promote healthier food choice.
  • In their battle for customer attention, food packaging designers are eager to implement techniques from psychology. It gives them an edge over their competitors in grabbing customer attention and increasing sales.

    Especially in the aisles containing your typical vice products, most purchases are unplanned. This leaves a major role for on-pack visuals and claims to determine which products end up in our shopping baskets. 

    Over the years, consumer psychologists have unearthed many of these design techniques, which are often quite eloquent and subtle, such as:

    • Getting the typography right (did you know that round fonts reinforce our perception of sweetness?)
    • Cleverly arranging the various visual elements (did you know that bottom-heavy pack designs increases our perception of the amount of product we’ll be getting)
    • Using nature’s principles of beauty (did you know that designs following the golden ratio are regarded more beautiful?)

    As we focus on ever-more subtle design techniques, we may be overlooking the most powerful weapons of influence that are in front of our faces all along. A recent study by Huang et al., (2022) has thrown the spotlight on one such factors: image size.

    Bigger is truly better

    The study manipulated the packaging visuals of a multitude of food products. Some of these products were typical ‘vice’ purchases, such as salty crisps, carbonated soft drinks or a piece of chocolate. Other products were of the healthy ‘virtue’ kind, such as a garden salad. Each product was tested with varying sizes of food image. Over multiple studies, a consistent pattern emerged where vice products become more attractive when promoted with large food visuals, whereas image size didn’t make any difference for virtue products.

    The reason image size only appears to show its influence for vice products has to do with how product images affect our mental processing. The authors explain that merely looking upon a food image sparks our mental imagination of what it would be like to actually eat the food. Glazing upon a product’s packaging, we are already mentally chewing on what’s inside – especially when the pack design demands extra attention to the visual by its sheer size.

    The underlying process of mental imagination explains why the positive effects only emerge for vice products: while a bar of chocolate becomes even more alluring the more we mentally simulate its delicious taste and texture, this is hardly the case for a can of peas. Mental imagery only increases the allure of foods we already crave.

    Online, size may be even more important

    For pack designers, it’s clearly beneficial to not be stingy when allocating visual space for the actual food image. This is especially important for an online pack shot, which due to its non-tangible and oftentimes small appearance has a hard time evoking the same degree of mental imagery as its in-store counterpart would. As a result, online packs may benefit even more from boldly displaying the core product.

    This aligns well with the current online trend of hero packaging. These are altered pack shots specifically optimized for online product display. Unnecessary visual clutter and small print are removed, so only the key information on the brand and product remains. The current research adds a recommendation on top of the hero packaging design principles: in case of a vice product, the pack shot will be most effective when the food image is large and prominent.

    The other side of the coin: an effective nudge to reduce obesity

    So far, we’ve examined the effect of image size on product perception from the perspective of marketing. However, the study is equally relevant for policymakers. As large food images increase the attractiveness of vice products, the opposite also holds true that decreasing food image size will make it easier for consumers to refrain from buying products that are detrimental to their health.

    As global obesity is at an all-time high, some policymakers argue in favor of ‘harsh’ legislation against unhealthy foods, such as taxing fatty or sugary foods or even banning them from the shelves altogether. Alternatively, the present study puts forward a small nudge that may make a big difference: just cap the maximum size of a food image relative to its packaging.

  • Reference:

    Huang, J., Wang, L., & Chan, E. Y. (2022). Larger= more attractive? Image size on food packages influences purchase likelihood. Psychology & Marketing, 39(6), 1257-1266.

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