Pelican’s packaging PR experts ask: can neuroscience change the brands we buy?

Brands are starting to use neuroscience to improve their pack designs but as packaging PR experts we’re wondering: does this trend ignore a fundamental aspect of the way we shop?

As packaging PR experts we were fascinated by the recent Raconteur ‘Future of Packaging’ supplement in The Times.

Cognitive neuroscienceOne section that caught our eye was the ‘Science behind shopping’ feature which highlighted brands’ growing use of cognitive neuroscience to work out why shoppers select certain packs when shopping.

This is a fashionable idea which appeals to many brands searching for an advantage in such a competitive grocery market.

The theory is based on the much quoted statistic that 82% of shoppers decide which brand to buy when they’re in store.

The Raconteur supplement quotes cognitive neuroscientist Dr Andy Myers who says: “The average large supermarket has 40,000 product lines. You buy on average 40 products per trip in a shop that lasts 30 minutes. This means you need to reject 20 products per second – you cannot do that consciously,”

“The sheer amount of conscious brain power this would take would leave you in the supermarket for days, therefore we rely largely on unconscious processes to guide our behaviour.”

The company at which he works, Walnut Unlimited, has carried out what is known as implicit testing to understand which cues have the strongest association in the brain and act as a shortcut to a particular brand.

“This may be particular colours, shapes, iconography and so on – and by doing this for the brand and competitors we can understand which of these assets are truly unique to the brand and which are simply owned by a category,” says Dr Myers.

As packaging PR specialists, we’re sure there’s some profound insights to be gained from this type of research, and whilst it’s tempting to think packaging can manipulate our subconscious to drive our purchasing decisions, this approach does miss a fundamental point about shopping. We are brand loyal.

We tend to buy the same things week in week out. If you like Weetabix, Tropicana and Marmite, you’re going to keep buying these brands. Even if other brands are trying to manipulate your unconscious mind. It’s simply not credible to claim 82% of shoppers decide which brand to buy when they’re in store, because our conscious minds have already made the decision.

What is more important to the success of a brand is ‘out of stocks’. If you’re not on shelf you can’t be purchased. This is when brand loyalty is meaningless and consumers are lost to competitive brands.

We’re not dismissing this approach out of hand. It’s very relevant to new brands entering a category, impulse categories and products, where shelf standout is vital. It’s also important in categories we shop more thoughtfully.

There’s no doubt that our subconscious minds are influenced by the look and feel of the bottle and label when picking a bottle of red for the weekend. That said, we will have already decided if we want a Malbec or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Pelican Communications are specialists in the environmentfood and drinkoutdoor and leisure and packaging sectors and offer a range of services such as media relations, brand management, event management and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.