The concepts of perceptual fluency and response inhibition are interesting topics that relate to consumer purchasing behavior and product packaging. Here's a look at how these two psychological spheres play into consumer decision-making in response to metal packaging.
Perceptual Fluency and Response Inhibition
“Perceptual fluency is the subjective feeling of ease or difficulty while processing perceptual information” (McKean et al.). Psychology researchers Rolf Reber and Norbert Schwarz concluded in a 1999 paper that perceptual fluency affects judgments of truth. But when distractions are eliminated, problems with information processing can disappear with them.
Response inhibition occurs when an individual's response is inhibited by a distraction. There are various reasons why people hold back feelings when participating in surveys. One reason is privacy, as many people don't feel comfortable expressing themselves in certain settings, like in a group experiment, even if they initially agreed to it.
Researchers still have much unknown territory to explore perceptual fluency, particularly when it's combined with response inhibition. A person examining a product in a store to consider purchasing it can be distracted by loud annoying voices from nearby customers and suddenly be in a negative mindset.
How Package Shape Enhances Perceptual Fluency
An individual has immediate associations with certain shapes such as round or square objects. Metal packaging can take on a variety of shapes, especially if the material is aluminum, which can be molded into any shape imaginable. Consumers have now been exposed to canned food for over a century, so they already have a largely positive familiarity with round tin cans as containers for soups, meats, fruits and vegetables.
Since round tin cans are already widely perceived as strong, safe containers that protect and preserve food, they can be used to influence perception of food quality. Consumers have a similar close affiliation with tin cans used for soda pop, beer and many other beverages.
Packaging designers should have a deep curiosity about the psychology of shapes. Every common shape in a grocery store generates various perceptions based on individual experiences. Shapes also relate with emotions, based on how the individual has felt in the past about certain shapes.
Every physical object has a shape that is perceived at a conscious or subconscious level. The meaning an individual assigns to a particular shape affects how they respond to it. The speed at which one emotionally responds to a shape reveals elements of their personality.
Squares and rectangles are the two most widely used shapes in packaging, although food is a bit different. Part of the reason for keeping packages flat is for easier and efficient storage and shipping. Since most people keep food in a refrigerator or cabinet, both of which contain shelving, there's much more flexibility in food packaging shapes than for other products.
Perceptions and Emotions Associated with Metal
Each form of metal material used in the industrial or consumer world can trigger instant emotions the same way shapes and colors can. Again, it depends on the individual's background how they respond to different stimuli.
The only metal considered superior to gold in the commercial market is platinum. So gold or platinum packaging would instantly get many people's attention. But it's impractical to use gold for most packaging due to its scarcity and expensive cost. The point is that gold is instantly recognizable and emotional due to its association with wealth and success, so many people have an instant perception of gold as high quality.
While plastic is the most popular material used for packaging due to its low cost, most consumers agree that metal is a more protective and longer-lasting form of packaging. The most widely used metal materials to package products are aluminum and tinplate. Partly because of their shiny effects, these metals are perceived as having greater aesthetic quality than plastic containers.
How Packaging Influences Purchasing
While the product is the grand prize the consumer is looking for, the package serves as an advertisement for the product. Packaging can trigger confirmation in what the customer is looking for. It can also be a red flag to avoid if it doesn't speak the language of the customer's expectations in the form of materials, textures, shapes, sizes and colors.
Designers must take various psychological factors into account when they craft a package for a product. Tapping into perceptual fluency is part of the orientation process between the brand and consumer. While each individual has their own emotional response to a given package, researching what the target market finds appealing in terms of physical characteristics of packaging can give a manufacturer a creative and competitive edge.
References and Further Reading
[ 1 ] Perceptual Fluency, Preference and Evolution (2006), by Rolf Reber and Norbert Schwarz
[ 2 ] Three minutes to change preferences: perceptual fluency and response inhibition (2020), by Bryony McKean, Jonathan C. Flavell, Harriet Over and Steven P. Tipper
[ 3 ] Inside Consumption: Consumer Motives, Goals, and Desires (2004), by Khan, U., Dhar, R., and Wertenbroch, K. ; Abingdon: Routledge, 144–165