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Smokin’ Hot Ideas for Package Testing

Posted On  December 10, 2013

Would you sell your product in an unbranded package? That may soon be the fate of cigarettes in the UK.  After an Australian study revealed that smokers found plain-pack cigarettes less satisfying in taste and experience than branded ones, British lawmakers may follow Australia’s example and attempt to discourage smoking via changes to the product packaging.

Mark Hartstone, Managing Director of LRW Europe, shared the story with his colleagues, noting that it reinforces the work from our Pragmatic Brain Science Institute®, demonstrating that brands shape reality and actually change how we experience products. The implications for packaging testing lit up the inboxes of our team last week, as person after person recalled the fates of iconic brands that tinkered with or transformed their product’s packaging. The results were mixed: some going up in smoke and other redesigns fanning the flames of success!

There are plenty of reasons to make a packaging change. Refreshing a package can modernize a brand, stimulate attention, or provide important new information for consumers.  If you need to stimulate trial for an improved formula, executing a package redesign is a solid strategy to cue people that something is up.  But, if the beloved product is unchanged, and just its window-dressing has been spruced up, watch out…tests by one major brand found that without the call-out “new look, same great taste”, branded consumer taste test scores faltered.

Why? Because changing the visual iconography of your brand can be risky business. Not all news is good news, especially in lower involvement categories. If a change means your product is less recognizable on shelves, you may trigger your habitual buyers into search mode and lose some of those buyers to a now more conscious choice.  Or you may cause them to re-assess their use of your product on the assumption it may have changed.

Considering a package redesign? Test it. An obvious recommendation from a research company, but some very public “new look” packaging failures could have been avoided by the application of solid consumer research. Assess whether the benefits of the package change are worth the potential disruption of habitual buying of your brand. Remember that there will be greater and quicker impact among your brand buyers than your prospects.

Here are some tips from our Marketing Science team:

  • Monadically test brand imagery, user imagery, perceived quality, and all the core brand equities without cueing people first that it’s the package you care about. Part of having an emotional connection to a brand is the built up memories and associations that customers have with the brand. That makes it important to assess whether the elements of the package graphics that are being changed are important linkages to those associations.
  • Look “below the surface” in testing new packaging. Direct questioning of consumer research respondents cannot reliably identify potentially disastrous consumer responses to changed packaging. So, it’s important to use “neuro-marketing” research methods that can assess how consumers’ less conscious and emotional motivations might drive reactions to new packaging.
  • Measure visibility, findability, familiarity, and overall appeal. Make sure in your testing scheme that your customers can continue to easily find the brand on the shelf. There will be a subset of your customers whose “loyalty” won’t withstand the additional effort of searching for your product.
  • If there is no change to the product, include in your package testing an evaluation of whether or not your customers recognize that fact.

We’ll leave the citizens and legislators of the UK to huff and puff over their particular challenges to this branding question. But, if you follow these guidelines you can build your brand and ensure your loyalists’ continue to carry a torch for you.


  1. Fascinating topic that I’d love to talk for hours on. Imagining “premium” brands in unbranded packaging sounds like a marketing disaster – Godiva chocolate, Evian water, Tiffany jewelry – but I’ll never admit I’m buying it just for the little blue box. And habitual brands like Heinz and Coke – who doesn’t grab these off the shelf without thinking? Amazing the signaling of packaging alone… My favorite example (and classic consumer behavior case study) is testing wines based on label alone… I loved testing this one out in grad school.

  2. This also happened a few years ago with Tropicana. They rolled back their redesigned packaging after they noticed a severe drop in sales.

  3. Interesting topic! Every businessman should think of something creative when it comes to packaging their product. Some may fail and some may win. It is not a big deal if you fail. What I think is that there is always a second chance to come back with a wonderful packaging that people would love. The only thing is that you should be very careful and creative the next time.
    Read about some creative packagings here at . Hope it would help you.


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