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Effective marketing strategies depend on shape of packaging and semantics that associate with the product. Tests have shown relationships between packaging and brand attributes, which can benefit packaging designers who base their solutions on sensory marketing. While these semantic associations are unique for each individual, this knowledge is still important for marketers to understand. Here's a deeper look at how the shape of packaging conveys meanings to consumers.

Stimuli and Semantic Associations

Scientists have known for many years that people make various semantic associations with a given word. The term "metal," for example, creates different images among different individuals. Some people might immediately think of a car or a big metal building, while others might think of the steel strings on an electric guitar. Sensory marketing research on packaging design has found that the various aspects of packaging, such as brand name, logo, colour, shape and size, generate associations with other congruent concepts.

These days more emphasis than ever before is put on packaging as a way to sway consumer purchasing decisions in stores. Of particular interest to packaging designers are the semantic associations that connect the brand, product and package. Even minor features of a packaging design can have a significant impact on a prospect's perception of the product. That's why marketers now take the shape of metal packaging very seriously.

Why Packaging Must Be Compatible With Associations

How consumers will associate shape of metal packaging with specific attributesPackaging material and shape must be compatible with people's expectations and the associations they make with materials and shapes. Metal tins, for example, are effective packaging for brands and products that communicate the following qualities:

  • strength
  • preservation
  • durability
  • convenience
  • sustainability

The undertone of these qualities may be an association with self-empowerment and a sense of planning ahead for the future. The concept that metal is useful for storage gives people a sense of strategic thinking that they are stocking up on items for their reserves in case of a disaster. The round shape of packaging used for tin cans has a psychological effect as well.

New Call-to-actionFor soft drinks, tin cans replace cups, making them all-in-one consumption products that consumers appreciate for convenience. A can of peanuts also serves the purpose of both a storage unit and a container during consumption instead using a separate bowl or dish. As for most canned foods, people simply have been conditioned over the past two centuries to accept this shape as universal for proper storage, similar to jars. One of the main reasons for this longevity stems from the manufacturing efficiency associated with round cans, that they reduce pressure points and produce minimal waste.

Consumers may not have a thorough understanding of the science behind tin cans, but they do have an overall awareness that round cans make more practical sense for storing foods than metal boxes or triangular shapes with sharp edges.

Weighing Marketing Research

Studies show that about 25% of consumers make purchasing decisions without giving much thought to their choices. A 1992 study by Chernatony & McDonald found that the time span most consumers make on deciding which products to buy in a store setting is less than eight seconds. So in that short time frame it's important that the look and feel of the product matches brand value associations that the consumer expects. It's important to note, though, that certain aspects of decision making occur at a subconscious level.

While focus groups can be an effective way to learn about specific individuals, researchers cannot always use these findings to apply to a wider market. One of the reasons for this problem is that study participates don't always admit specific associations they make with products. At the same time, packaging designers must be aware of all the associations that may be communicated to consumers as alternatives to words and phrases that are intended to describe the brand and product. That's why it's helpful to test a range of associations on a significant population sample.


Market researchers must be careful using focus groups not to draw conclusions that the results can be applied to typical consumers. Yet, most consumers still make nearly instant semantic associations with products they see in stores. The shape of packaging plays a huge role in this association process that is not always happening on a conscious level. Packaging designers must be aware that these factors exist and affect purchasing decisions, although consumers each have their own responses based on individual experiences. Ultimately, the brand, product and metal packaging must be consistent to make sense to the consumer.

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The postings in this blog section do not necessarily represent Desjardin's positions, strategies or opinions.

References and Further Reading




Topics: Metal Packaging, Caviar Packaging, Sustainability, Pharmaceutical, Chocolates , Biscuits and Confectionery packaging, Cosmetic Packaging