We define simple packaging design as the extent to which a product package contains few design elements that lack detail, are similar to one another, and are arranged in regular ways. Complex packaging design refers to the extent to which a product package contains many design elements that are highly detailed, different from one another, and arranged in irregular ways. We examined over 1,000 consumable product packages from the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. and find that the simplicity of the packaging design is positively associated with price. A series of experiments show that increased willingness to pay for products in simple packaging is due to consumers often assuming that simple packaging signals few ingredients, which enhances perceived product purity.
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Our research extends the understanding of consumer interest in minimalist aesthetics by showing conditions under which design simplicity can be less desirable. Visual simplicity often conveys the idea of “less is more,” but there are situations when it can simply signal “less is less.” Our work also broadens the understanding of the concept of purity in the context of consumer research. While explicit illustrations, such as a drawing of a mountain spring, can enhance consumer judgments of product purity, we find that product purity can be inferred from more subtle visual cues (that is, the lack of visual design elements). Relatedly, we dig deep into the concept of product purity, which can hold a variety of meanings, and differentiate purity from its related construct of naturalness, which typically refers to products that are not man-made.
Lessons for CMOs
Rosanna K. Smith is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA.