In the first of a series of online and laboratory experiments, this research suggests that food packaging that’s taller and elongated conveys “slimness,” while shorter, broader shapes are perceived as more stable and heavier, thus containing larger volumes and more calories. A subsequent experiment confirms that short, broad packaging increases the willingness to pay for products, such as confections, where this may signal quality. Further experiments demonstrate that this size-connotation effect is mitigated when volume judgments are made before weight judgment, when participants are given access to other diagnostic information (i.e., touch) or when the “heavier = more stable” belief is challenged in an experimental manipulation.
Perceptions of package design and even advertising typefaces can convey attributes such as weight and stability that affect consumer preference and willingness to pay. For some products and decisions, heaviness can connote quality—but marketers need to know when and how this applies.
Taken together, these findings suggest that the inferences consumers make based on perceived weight and stability are—or can be made—conscious. This is important since depending on the product category, perceived heaviness can be either a positive (e.g., rich and creamy whole milk yogurt) or a negative (e.g., light, low-fat yogurt). A final experiment confirms that broader, more stable packaging is preferred for whole-milk yogurt, while taller, less stable packaging is preferred for low-fat yogurt.
The researchers conclude by noting that their findings are triangulated on a wide variety of product categories (e.g., chips, yogurt, chocolate, bottled juice, and a laptop), different weight measures and scales (e.g., Likert scales, open-ended ratio-scales, choice), multiple operationalizations of stability (e.g., product orientation, elongation, center of gravity) and in two different countries (the U.S. and China).
Read the full paper here.