Packaging designers should know the difference between hedonic and functional products

by Alex Cosper on April 22, 2022

Packaging designers should know the difference between hedonic and functional products. Hedonic goods are crafted to provide fun, pleasure and excitement for the consumer. Functional products are designed more for utility. Here's a look at the different packaging design approaches to hedonic versus functional products.

Emotional Response to Hedonic Products

Researchers have found in a series of studies that hedonic products inspire deeper emotional reactions and feelings with consumers than functional products. Recent findings point to only certain segments of the market are impacted by the emotions related to hedonic products. But a major caveat to this research is that it has mainly focused on conscious emotions. It doesn't not take into account hidden feelings.

One might ask if there's even a way possible to measure emotions at conscious or unconscious levels. The best studies so far have been limited to testing participant responses using physiological metrics such as heart rate, breath rate and skin conductance. This data relies on measuring activities of the heart and respiratory system, as well as cerebral processes. Research participants of hedonic and functional products have typically self-reported responses.

Looking at the findings closely, studies have revealed that both hedonic and functional products generate emotional responses in consumers. At the same time, there's evidence that people's reported responses to functional products may differ from corresponding biological data.

Factors Affecting Consumer Emotions

When consumers test new products, they don't necessarily report useful accurate information. There are various reasons why a person might give a false response to a test, especially if they think they'll be rewarded for a certain response. That would explain why sometimes there's a disconnect between self-reported data and physiological response data.

Another concern when measuring emotional response is that an individual's first impression of a product isn't necessarily the one that sticks over time. It's possible for someone to be upbeat about a new product simply because they're excited about sampling a new item and that someone values their opinion about it. Emotional response metrics can also become distorted when a study participant shows up in a bad mood maybe because something terrible happened at work.

So it's clear to see how measuring human emotions is a difficult endeavor. Usually it takes several experiences with a product or brand for it to become familiar and desired by the consumer. First impressions are simply indicators and not decisive events that determine a consumer's final judgment of the product.

Different Types of Emotions

Packaging designers must take into account when looking at consumer research that only repeated studies give a clear picture of what a particular group of people think or feel about a product. Since a new product doesn't stay new very long, it's difficult to gauge studies that attempt to measure how consumers feel about a hedonic or functional product.

It's easy to just assume that on the surface feel-good products naturally trigger positive emotions while utility-based products have a more scientific appeal. But this premise for studying consumer emotions falls short of definitive evidence based on how emotions can be influenced by the study itself.

When individuals are asked to evaluate new music, many have a limited musical vocabulary to work with to explain how they really feel. A sense of peer pressure can come into play, as the respondent may be inclined to report what they think the researchers want to see. Seminar attendees who are rewarded with a free dinner to listen to a speaker talk about a new product might return the favor by giving a positive response with no intention of ever buying the product.

The point is, it's not easy to measure consumer emotions because there's more to a consumer's association with a product they care about than what physiological or reported data can reveal. It's important for packaging designers to remember that emotions and intellect do mix together in ways that researchers don't fully understand or know how to measure.

Sending the Right Signals on Packaging

What you mostly need to focus on when it comes to distinguishing hedonic from functional packaging is that nothing in the commercial world is either strictly hedonic or functional. Even functional products have emotional appeal, such as a blender that makes great-tasting fruit smoothies.

In general, hedonic products are more likely to generate pleasure and arousal than functional products. There's an underlying assumption among marketers that fun products are emotional while functional products are more serious. But what you communicate on the package comes down to each specific product. In other words, try not to generalize that all hedonic products should be packaged differently than functional products.

Focus more on the solution the product delivers and why it exists when you develop packaging for either hedonic or functional products. Remember that certain items, such as a new computing device, are both emotional and useful. There's also a chance that when people are asked how they feel about a product that their unconscious feelings differ from their conscious feelings.

It's clear that a person may have different emotional responses to the same product depending on the interaction mode. The various studies on hedonic versus functional products indicate that the manner in which the product is presented to the consumer affects their emotional response.

Since many hedonic products are obviously associated with pleasure, it's easy to see how consumers make assumptions about hedonic products that relate to emotions. In some cases it's possible to use hedonic packaging techniques for functional products to make them stand out from competing products.


The debate whether consumers are more emotional about hedonic products is not necessarily completely understood, but most studies suggest hedonic products trigger more emotional responses than functional products. Packaging designers should have general ideas on differences for designing hedonic versus functional packaging. But it's important to never lose sight of the fact that the package should reflect the specific product and not so much a broad category.


References and Further Reading

[ 1 ] Consumers Emotional Responses to Functional and Hedonic Products: A Neuroscience Research (2020), by Debora Bettiga,Anna M. Bianchi, Lucio Lamberti and Giuliano Noci. Published in Frontiers in Psychology

[ 2 ] Inside Consumption: Consumer Motives, Goals, and Desires (2004), by  Khan, U., Dhar, R., and Wertenbroch, K. ; Abingdon: Routledge, 144–165

Topics: Metal Packaging, Fancy Tins, Design & Emotions

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