Food Marketers Use Food Packaging to Trigger Emotions

How some food marketers use emotional triggers and sensory cues in packaging design to attract buyers and to create a bond with the brand.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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The graphics on wine labels for Stolpman Vineyards (, Solvang, Calif., communicate a different story -- that of a serious, premium wine maker.

"The squareness of the Stolpman typeface and label shape provide a foundation that's strong and confident," says Steve Glanzer, a designer at Axion, which created the package designs for both Stolpman Vineyards and Tanimura and Antle. The Stolpman label "is standing there saying, 'We are high-quality.'"

Uno Foods Inc. (, Boston, used package graphics to convey the restaurant quality of its refrigerated retail pizzas. The new package looks like an upscale version of an Uno restaurant take-out box and incorporates typefaces from the Uno menu.

Repetitive text in the background subtly reinforces the message with information about the product's fresh ingredients, its restaurant quality and the fact that each pizza is made by hand.

"The package really invites the consumer to remember what it's like to eat in an Uno restaurant," says Robert Hill, design director with Acton, Mass.-based Wright Design Inc. (, which designed the new Uno package.

The final touch on the Uno package is a large die cut, front and center, that reveals the delectable looking pizza. Although this cue is visual, it does double duty by opening a Pavlovian path straight to the taste buds.

Shape matters 

Crosse and Blackwell's Waistline foods in the U.K. reinforce their weight-control message with a distinctive hourglass-shaped can.

Another important visual cue is the package's physical shape. Product attributes or benefits, portrayed in the package shape, serve as a gentle or even subliminal reminder of what the product promises to deliver.

For example, the Kellogg's Smart Start cereal box is as wide and tall as competitive products but not as thick. The box's shape resonates with the product's emphasis on healthiness, which consumers often conflate with being trim.

Similarly, the can for Tab Energy, a Coca-Cola low-calorie energy drink for women, is tall and slender compared with standard soda cans. And it is actually smaller, holding 10.5 oz. rather than 12 oz. Crosse and Blackwell Waistline diet products, from Premier Foods (, St. Albans, England, are packaged in a distinctive hourglass-shaped can to reinforce the brand name and the product's weight-control benefits. Paris-based Crown Food Europe ( supplies the shapely cans.

Package structures for liquids and wet foods are inherently "analogous to the human form," says J. Duncan Berry, director of applied iconology at Cincinnati-based laga (, a design and innovation firm.

"Consciously, of course we don't think of these packages as surrogate people. But in the creative unconscious, they do speak to us that way," Berry adds. Thus, mapping human physical characteristics onto packages acknowledges consumers' unconscious projections.

Aimed at a male audience, Knob Creek Kentucky bourbon comes in a bottle design with "masculine shoulders," and other male-oriented cues.

Consider the distinctive bottle for Knob Creek Kentucky bourbon. "It's quite a large bottle, with masculine shoulders. We widened it and gave it some masculine girth," says Olson, from Duffy and Partners, the firm that designed the package. "It's a new interpretation of a glass bottle, and on the shelf it has presence."

A more literal example of anthropomorphism, one that's no longer available but lives on in the memories of the boomer generation, is the Aunt Jemima Syrup bottle. The package depicted the brand's namesake, right down to her facial features, in amber glass with a yellow screw top.

Tactile and sound cues

Novel shapes can act as both visual and tactile cues, silently encouraging consumers to touch the package. And "when consumers touch a product, the likelihood of purchase sky rockets," laga's Berry says.

"You can induce tactile response by including an unconscious trigger" in the package, such as shape or texture, he adds. "That's what designers and marketers are aiming to do."

Rough finishes on paperboard packaging, embossing or etching on glass bottles and jars and molded features on plastic containers are a few ways food packagers incorporate texture.

Printing techniques can be used for this purpose. For Bawls Guarana, a high-caffeine energy drink, brand owner Hobarama LLC (, Miami, uses 16-oz. cans that have been texturized using foaming ink. The ink is applied in a pattern of dots that amplifies the can's graphic design. The company also uses bumpy-textured glass bottles for the product.

Sound cues can be incorporated into packages, as well, to enhance consumers' experience of the package and product. Examples include the pop of an induction seal as it is broken and the audible click of a closure snapping shut.

These kinds of sounds provide feedback for the consumer, "and we're always looking for feedback. People can be quite attracted to something like that," says Belinda Winder, consumer psychologist and senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, England. "We're playful, curious creatures. We like to make sounds, and we like feedback, so if you can incorporate a sound" into a package, consumers will respond.

Package sounds can be powerful mood stimulators. A classic is the pop of a champagne cork. Another is the opening sound of a beverage-can pull ring. "There's a feeling that goes with that," Winder says. "Poof! I'm going to get my drink now. The moment of relaxation has started with that sound."

The significance of a sound sometimes becomes apparent only after a packaging change, as in the case of the peanut marketer that switched from a steel can to a composite can a few years ago.

The steel can made a whooshing sound when opened, and research by Cheskin revealed that consumers heard the whoosh as a freshness cue. But for cost reasons, the brand owner switched to the non-whooshing composite container.

After making the switch, the brand lost market share. "We can't prove it," says Cheskin's Haberkern, "but we suspect the loss of the whooshing sound was a driver in that."

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