At East River, we’ve been researching how people interact with packs for years. Here we’re sharing some of the things we’ve learnt along the way – in no particular order, our 10 myths of pack interaction



Myth 1: Disruption gets you noticed

In fmcg at least, category rules rule. We shop unconsciously, and our unconscious minds look for reassurance that they’re in the right place: they get this from familiarity. Packs that break category rules can simply be screened out, unconsciously, before our conscious brains even get a chance to register that they’re there. That doesn’t mean you need to be the same as everyone else – but identify the unbreakable rules for your category before you set off.  

Myth 2: Longstanding pack features are non-negotiable visual equities

An equity is a property that contributes positively to what a brand means – not just a visual device the brand has always used. Drill down to what a brand’s consumers value – or actually even remember – and there’s often surprisingly little. Consider researching what’s non-negotiable before you write the design brief. You could have far more (or less) scope for change than you think.

Myth 3: People read the small print

They don’t. They really, really don’t. If it’s an important message, sing it loud. If it doesn’t warrant a prominent position, maybe it’s not so important after all – use research to sort out your information hierarchy. And if you can make your point visually rather than verbally, so much the better.

Myth 4: An improved pack is worth paying more for

Of course we don’t ask people directly – who in their right mind would agree to pay more for packaging? We have subtler ways of getting to this – but the recession has changed things. Where people used to claim they checked prices, but really didn’t, now they actually do – so the ‘paying for packaging’ argument gets harder. Make sure you know what really adds value before you commit to expensive changes.

Myth 5: Online is great for pack research

In ‘traditional’ online research, a pack is presented as a picture – hopefully on a full size screen, but worst case, viewed on a phone, and so reduced to a 2 inch thumbnail. Either way, if you treat your pack as a picture, people will respond to it as if it’s a picture – and that’s completely different from the way they respond, in real life, to the way a product and brand is presented. Online is great for lots of things: we use online quant all the time for other purposes, and if you want to place a live pack with people and find out how they react to it, in use, in their own homes, online qual can be amazingly fruitful. But if you need a visual assessment of a new design or structure, go real-world or not at all.

Myth 6: People do the maths

So your new, taller, thinner pack contains just as much, and so is just as good value? Or has a smaller front face but more depth? Chances are people won’t get it. Even if they rationally understand it once it’s pointed out, first impressions say it’s smaller – make sure you know how a structure works on shelf, rather than risk making the kind of impact you really don’t want.

Myth 7: People understand environmental impact

For the most part, people recycle – but often only the things that the council collects from their door. And for many, that’s where their understanding of environmental sustainability begins and ends. Because they’re driven by what their local authority does, and that tends to be partial, their assumptions are often wrong. Check out a consumer response before you decide how and where to invest. Give them a story that offers something to them, as well as to the planet. And recycling policies vary from region to region, so go broad on coverage.

Myth 8: Design codes are a universal language

One man’s techy metallic is another’s showy bling. One man’s elegant minimalism is another’s boring, basic and underdone. Demographics, cultural context and visual literacy all affect how people decode packs – be sure of your audience and how they’ll react before you take the leap.

Myth 9: Emotional engagement with pack is always crucial

In some cases, it is. But in some categories, it’s not needed, expected or realistically achievable. What is crucial is that you work with researchers who understand design, and who use the right techniques to uncover emotional effect – because if a design does have emotional impact, people often don’t recognise it easily, and so won’t tell you about it spontaneously.

Myth 10: People always resist change

Having said all of this, it would be easy to assume that people always resist or ignore change, so there’s no point in considering it, and certainly no point in listening to them. Not true: where change is resisted, it’s usually because it makes their lives harder. If it’s ignored, it’s often because they can’t see the point. Make sure there’s something in it for them, as well as for the brand, and you can be on to a winner. Just make sure you know what they really value.

At East River Insight, we’ve been researching design to help clients and designers optimise packs for years. If you’d like to discuss your own packaging plans, call us on 01522 778885 or email