Better Packaging via Neuromarketing


What’s better than a chocolate chip cookie? A chocolate chip cookie in a package optimized with neuromarketing. Consumer companies don’t often talk about their neuromarketing efforts, perhaps because of the vaguely scary sound of it all. Some of the rare public windows into neuromarketing studies have been in the packaging area, notably the Campbell’s Soup project. Now we have another packaging study to review, this time involving Gerber baby food and Chips Ahoy cookies.

In an article at Brand Packaging, Scott Young, president of Perception Research Services, International, describes the process for Gerber’s iconic jars:

Gerber jar - "negative emotions" indicated by red
Gerber jar - "negative emotions" indicated by red
As might be expected, the study reinforced the power of the familiar Gerber branding and baby visual. But the research also uncovered negative emotional reactions to various graphic elements, including the visual icon intended to convey baby stages, the benefit bands and less-prominent health claims. These reactions suggest either confusion in interpretation and/or difficulty reading smaller print. Taken collectively, they spoke to a need to “clean up” and simplify the packs, to make them more accessible to shoppers.

The cookie study led to specific design changes:

Chips Ahoy packages - old and newFor instance, resealability was known to be a valued feature, but the resealability claim itself was driving negative emotional reactions; it was too jarring on the current packaging and too difficult to read on the proposed. The cookie visual on the proposed packaging was also problematic. Despite its prominence, it didn’t appear to be effective because it only drew neutral reactions. These insights led to significant refinements to both design elements prior to launch. The resealability tab was made more legible, while the cookie visual was given more energy with flying chips visuals.

Young indicates that the neuromarketing work was done by EmSense, and was a combination of eye-tracking and EEG. Young thinks the key contribution of neuromarketing is the “why” component. It’s easy enough to see if a new package works by comparing actual sales data, but neuromarketing analysis can identify specific design elements that work or don’t work, he says.

Emsense engagement chartLike any good consulting firm, Emsense has created a four-quadrant matrix – theirs plots what they call emotional and cognitive response. Low levels of both indicate lack of engagement, while high levels indicate interest. The other quadrants are the most interesting for packaged goods, according to Young. High cognitive involvement with low emotion indicates confusion, while the sweet spot is the combination of low cognition and high emotion (dubbed “Easy Enjoyment”).

Young briefly mentions several other packaging studies that used neuromarketing. In one case, it was found removing a familiar brand character from a food package had a negative impact. He notes that seemingly insignificant items like a bit of steam rising from an entree or a “cheese pull” on a pizza package had a measurable impact. Now, one can only hope that someone ties the research together with sales data and publishes it. That would be a great validation of this very interesting work on package design.

  1. Matt Wall says

    Great post – thanks! You might also be interested in the work of a friend of mine, Dr Tim Holmes of Royal Holloway University ( He’s done a lot of work using evolutionary algorithms and tracking preferential eye-movements in order to ‘evolve’ optimal packaging designs in real time, simply by getting people to look at a screen on which pairs of packages are displayed. There’s a brief accessible write-up about his work here:

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks, Matt, I’ll check that out.


  2. Michael Kruk says

    All of these posts are great. Your posts are becoming an integral part of choosing pictures catered to each of the posts on my own blog. My team and I thank you!


  3. David Brains says

    Awesome to see such definite applications of neuromarketing. I wasn’t even aware that companies such as EmSense existed!

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Check out Neuromarketing Companies, David. The number is growing!


  4. Tim Holmes says

    Hi Roger,

    Great piece, and something very close to my heart (sorry, brain) – see Matt’s comment at top. On my blog I talk about several packaging related studies with eyetracking and am currently attemtpting to bring together the pack designers, brand owners and marketing guys to have a more fully rounded discussion of so,e of these issues that can be used to inform the design process earlier and not at the pre-launch testing stage when it’s often too late to make changes. I recently spoke about this at Dubai Lynx. Anyway, just wanted to say keep,up the good work and if you ever fancy comparing notes sometime, hit me up on email or via the website.

    Oh, and great work on the podcast by the way, anyone reading this piece should definitely subscribe!


    1. Roger Dooley says

      I guess packaging has a lot in common with websites, Tim – “Here’s the final design, let’s give it a quick test before we go into production!”

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