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Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice

ISSN: 1069-6679 (Print) 1944-7175 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/mmtp20

The Communicative Power of Product Packaging:


Creating Brand Identity via Lived and Mediated
Experience
Robert L. Underwood
To cite this article: Robert L. Underwood (2003) The Communicative Power of Product
Packaging: Creating Brand Identity via Lived and Mediated Experience, Journal of Marketing
Theory and Practice, 11:1, 62-76, DOI: 10.1080/10696679.2003.11501933
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10696679.2003.11501933

Published online: 02 Dec 2015.

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THE COMMUNICATIVE POWER OF PRODUCT


PACKAGING: CREATING BRAND IDENTITY
VIA LIVED AND MEDIATED EXPERIENCE

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Robert L. Underwood
University of Alabama-Birmingham

Building on existing frameworks (customer-based brand equity, consumer-brand relationships, product symbolism/self concept),
this paper forwards packaging as a product-related attribute critical to the creation and communication of brand identity.
Packaging is posited to influence brand and self-identity via a dual resource base (mediated and lived experience); a conceptual
positioning variant from the traditional single symbolic resource base (mediated experience) provided by advertising. This
conceptual distinction is examined and data from an exploratory qualitative study are provided to illustrate the powerful role of
packaging in communicating brand meaning and strengthening the consumer-brand relationship, especially for low involvement
consumer nondurable products.
INTRODUCTION

The marketing literature is rich with illustrations that people


buy products not only for the functional utility they provide,
but also the symbolic meaning they possess (Levy 1959;
Solomon 1983; McCracken 1986; Belk 1988; Dittmar 1992).
The symbolism associated with products operates in two
directions: inward in constructing our self-identity, selfsymbolism; and outward in constructing the social world,
social symbolism (Elliott 1997; Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998).
To date, the symbolic literature in the marketing field has
focused primarily on advertising as the major instrument of
cultural meaning creation and transfer for brands and
consumers (McCracken 1986; Mick & Buhl 1992).
One marketing element that has been largely overlooked in the
theoretical construction and communication of brand
symbolism and the self is product packaging. Packaging acts
not only as a communication vehicle for transmitting
symbolism, but is important for its own symbolic contribution
to the total understanding of the corporation or brand (Rapheal
& Olsson 1978). Several managerial trends suggest a growing
role for packaging as a brand communication vehicle. These
include an increase in nondurable product buying decisions at
the store shelf (Rosenfeld 1987; Vartan & Rosenfeld 1987;
Prone 1993, POPAI 2001), a reduction in spending on
traditional brand-building mass-media advertising (Semenik
2002), and growing management recognition of the capacity
ofpackaging to create differentiation and identity forrelatively
homogenous consumer nondurables (Spethrnann 1994;
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Journal ofMarketing THEORY AND PRACTICE

Markgraf 1997; AMA 1998; Swientek 2001; Bertrand 2002;


Doyle 2002).
Packaging communicates brand personality via multiple
structural and visual elements, including a combination of
brand logo, colors, fonts, package materials, pictorials, product
descriptions, shapes and other elements that provide rich brand
associations. Symbolism generated and/or communicated by
the package may include convenience, environmental
consciousness, ethnicity, family, health consciousness, national
and/or regional authenticity, nostalgia, prestige, value and
variations in quality, among others. In addition, unlike the
singular symbolic resource base (mediated experience) provided
by advertising, packaging exists as a dual symbolic resource
base (mediated and lived experience). Package imagery
through design continuity and/or the social meaning attached
to elements of package design (e.g., color, shape) is a critical
mechanism in the shared social understanding of the brand, a
phenomenon that represents a mediated experience.
Packaging is also tangible in nature, a three-dimensional
marketing communication vehicle that is often integrally tied
to the ongoing performance of the product offering. The
package resides in the home, potentially becoming an intimate
part of the consumer's life; a phenomenon that represents a
type of lived experience between consumer and brand
(Lindsay 1997).
The purpose of this paper is to forward a theoretical
framework presenting an alternative conceptualization of
product packaging and its role in the brand communication

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process, a conceptualization that reflects the enhanced role of


product packaging in the marketplace. Packaging is positioned
as a product-related attribute, an aspect of the product that is
often critical to the creation and communication of brand
identity. This theoretical positioning contrasts directly with
existing literature (Keller 1993) that forwards packaging as a
non-product-related attribute, an aspect of the purchase and
consumption process, but, typically, not directly relating to
productperforrnance. Building on existing frameworks {brand
concept management (Park, Jaworski & MacInnis 1986),
customer-based brand equity (Keller 1993), consumer-brand
relationships (Fournier 1998), cultural meaning transfer
(McCracken 1986), product symbolism/self concept (Sirgy
1982; Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998), and symbolic
interactionism (Blumer 1969; Hirschman 1980; Solomon
1983)} we suggest that consumers realize direct functional,
experiential and/or symbolic brand benefits from product
packaging via both mediated and lived experiences with the
product. These benefits communicate and/or contribute to the
identity of the brand, while also providing a vehicle for the
expression of the self via purchase and consumption. This
brand communication role may be especially important for
relatively homogenous low involvement consumer
nondurables. Packaging may also play a key role in the
creation and/or enhancement of the consumerlbrand
relationship (Fournier 1998).

Richins 1994). Levy (1959) refers to a symbol as a general


term for all instances where experience is mediated rather than
direct; where an object, action, word, picture or complex
behavior is understood to represent not only itself but also
some other ideas or feelings. Products that are imbued with
symbolism are thus viewed as possessing meaning beyond
their tangible presence (Hirschman 1980). Consumers are not
viewed as the economical rational beings of prior economic
research, but as beings that view goods as symbols of personal
attributes, goals, social patterns and aspirations (Levy 1959).
The consumption of goods and their symbolic associations
thus plays a primary role in providing meaning and value for
the creation and maintenance of the consumer's personal and
social world (Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998). Owners often
realize a profound symbolic significance from their material
possessions. The meanings inherent to possessions are
integral to the construction and perception of social identity
(Dittmar 1992). Richins' work (1994) extends the body of
literature on possession meaning by distinguishing between
public and private meanings. Public meaning refers to cultural
symbols that are shaped and reinforced in social interchanges
and shared activities. This socialization process leads to a
considerable likeness in the meanings attached to these
symbols. Private meanings of an object are those idiosyncratic
or personal subjective meanings that arise largely from one's
interaction with and/or possession of an object.

Data from an exploratory qualitative study provide preliminary


evidence supporting the conceptualization of packaging as an
essential brand communication vehicle. To summarize, the
paper proposes that: (1) packaging is a product-related
attribute, a powerful vehicle for meaning creation and delivery,
as well as a potential cultural product itself; (2) packaging
communicates meaning via both mediated and lived
experience; and (3) packaging can be a vital tool for enhancing
consumer-brand relationships, especially for low involvement
consumer nondurable products.

The symbolic meaning associated with a product is not solely


a consequence of marketers' management of the brand, but
rather a combination of brand management and society's
interaction with and interpretation of this brand meaning.
Through the process of social interaction, consumers learn not
only to agree on shared meanings of some symbols but also to
develop idiosyncratic symbolic interpretations (Hirschman
1980; Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998). Symbolic interactionism
theory suggests that meanings of objects are transitory, in
other words, objects in all categories can undergo change in
their meaning (Blumer 1969). An object's meaning is
sustained through indications and definitions that people make
of the objects, thus products have no fixed status. Macro
social trends often facilitate this transformation in product
and/or brand meaning. Contemporary economic and social
trends such as the increasing number of women in the work
force, the polarization of income and wealth, an increasing
sense of time poverty, the aging of society, increasing health
and nutrition concerns, and the environmental movement
contribute to the shaping and modification of images of
various product groups and brands. This continual influence
surfaces in management's positioning of brands as well as in
society's changing interpretation of brand images and the
symbolic meanings of products.

The paper is organized in the following major sections. First,


a review of the extant product symbolism literature is offered,
followed by a brief review of packaging literature to date.
Data from an exploratory in-store qualitative study are
presented, followed by a conceptual framework positing
packaging as a product-related brand-building attribute.
Finally, we discuss managerial implications and directions for
future research.

BACKGROUND LITERATURE
Product Symbolism
The extant literature regarding symbolic consumption and selfconcept includes: research focusing on factors that influence
the establishment of product symbolism (Levy 1959;
Hirschman 1980; Belk 1981; Solomon 1983; McCracken
1986); and research examining the manner in which product
symbolism contributes to the formation of consumers' selfconcept (Levy 1959; Sirgy 1982; Solomon 1983; Belk 1988;

Rooted in symbolic interactionism theory are the concepts of


mediated and lived experiences -- the symbolic resource bases
for self-identity construction (Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998).
Consumers gain mediated experience through exposure to
mass-communication culture and mass media products.
Mediated experience provides consumers with exposure to
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events that are separated from our daily interactions by space


and time (Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998). Advertising is the
classic example of the mediated experience and serves as a
primary resource for symbolic meaning creation and brand
positioning. It also serves as a vehicle for cultural meaning
transfer, where meaning is transferred from the culturally
constituted world, to the brand, to the consumer (McCracken
1986; Mick & BuhlI992). Lived experiences refer to our dayto-day activities and encounters, those practical activities that
are situated and immediate. Within the context of marketing
and product symbolism, lived experience refers to our
interaction with the brand, typically resulting from purchase
and usage (Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998). We derive
meaning from this direct experience with the brand, based in
part on shared meaning (public meaning), but also arising from
idiosyncratic elements (private meaning) relating to our
possession and interaction with the brand (Richins 1994).
Prior studies suggest superiority for lived experience over
mediated experience in terms of attitude formation and
predictability of behavior toward products (Fazio & Zanna
1978; Smith & Swinyard 1988; Elliott & Wattanasuwan 1998).
Packaging as Marketing Communication
Relative to the wealth of studies that have examined the
communicative effects of advertising, the marketing literature
has paid limited attention to product packaging as a
communications vehicle. The defmition of packaging is itself
a source of contention. Evans and Berman (1992) describe
packaging as a property or characteristic of the product, while
others, most notably Olson and Jacoby (1972), refer to the
package as an extrinsic attribute (i.e., product-related but not
part of the physical product itself) of the product (e.g., price,
brand name, level of advertising). Zeitharnl's means-end
model (1972) classifies packaging as both an extrinsic and an
intrinsic attribute (i.e., one that cannot be changed without
altering the nature of the product itself). The package that is
part of the physical composition of the product (e.g., a dripless
spout for detergent or a squeezable ketchup container) is
intrinsic, while the information appearing on the package (e.g.,
brand name, picture, logo) is considered an extrinsic attribute.
In his seminal work on customer-based brand equity, Keller
(1993; 1998) classifies packaging as a non-pro duct-related
attribute, one of five brand elements (others include brand
name, logo and symbol, characters, and slogans) that constitute
brand identity. This designation considers the package to be
part of the purchase and consumption process, however, in
most cases, not directly relating to the necessary ingredients
for product performance. Building on Park, Jaworski and
MacInnis's (1986) theories of brand concept management,
Keller (1993) notes that functional and experiential product
benefits are typically correlated with product-related attributes,
while symbolic benefits are usually derived from non-productrelated attributes. The designation of packaging as a nonproduct-related attribute, thus conceptually limits its impact on
the brand to being primarily symbolic. This designation seems
short-sided, especially for low involvement consumer
nondurables, where package-delivered functional and

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Journal of Marketing THEORY AND PRACTICE

experiential brand benefits are often critical to the total


product offering.
Identifying the general characteristics and role of package
design was the focus of early research on packaging (Schucker
1959; Faison 1961, 1962; Cheskin 1971; Schwartz 1971),
including packaging as a variable influencing product
evaluation (Banks 1950; Brown 1958; McDaniel and Baker
1977; Miaoulis and d'Arnato 1978) and packaging as a means
of communication (Lincoln 1965; Gardner 1967). Several
studies integrated packaging with other extrinsic cues (e.g.,
price,brand name) to examine the influence on product quality
perceptions (Rigaux-Bricmont 1982; Bonner and Nelson 1985;
Stokes 1985). Additional packaging-related research includes
studies examining ethical packaging issues (Bone and Corey
1992, 2000), research measuring the impact ofpackage size on
consumer usage (Wansink 1996) and studies examining the
veracity and communicative competence of packaging
(Polonsky et al. 1998; Underwood and Ozanne 1998). More
recently, studies have examined the visual impact of product
packaging, including the effects of product imagery on
packaging (Underwood, Klein and Burke 2001), visual
attention during brand choice (Pieters and Warlop's 1999), and
studies measuring the impact of relative package appearance
(e.g., typical, novel, color) on consumer attention,
categorization and evaluation (Plasschart 1995; Schoormans,
Robben, and Henry 1997; Garber, Burke and Jones 2000).
No research to date, however, has examined the larger role of
packaging as a communication vehicle contributing to the
construction of brand and self-identity.
EXPLORATORY STUDY
The purpose of this qualitative study was to develop a deeper
understanding of the role of packaging as a brand
communication vehicle, to examine consumers' perceptions,
experiences and relationships with product packaging and
brands. The study utilized open-ended, in-depth interviews
(McCracken 1988) from consumers in a grocery store walkthrough format. This qualitative technique was considered an
appropriate methodological vehicle given the goal of
developing an understanding of the subjective meanings of
consumers' lived and mediated experiences with packaging
and brands. This technique also permitted the exploration of
relationships across a wide range of naturally occurring
consumer-package dyads.
A few qualitative research rules of thumb guided the choice of
the respondent pool. Efforts were made to create a contrast in
the respondent pool by age, gender, and social class; also all
respondents were briefed to ensure that they did not have any
special knowledge of the subject area (McCracken 1988). The
informants included: Barry, a white male in his middle forties,
part-time college instructor and middle class; Billie, a white
female in her middle forties, maid/housekeeper and lowermiddle class; Diana, a white female in her early-to-middle
twenties, graduate student and middle class; Heather, a white

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female in her early twenties, undergraduate student and middle


class; and Lisa, a white female in her middle twenties,
graduate student and upper middle class. Grocery store walkthrough interviews were conducted with the five subjects,
ranging in duration from one to two hours each. The subjects
were informed that the purpose of the study was to understand
packaging, however they were encouraged to discuss whatever
was of interest to them in the retail setting. Subjects were
encouraged to select packages off the shelves that were
relevant to them (i.e., products they currently used; products
they had used in the past but were no longer using; and
products they had never tried before) and to elaborate on the
product, packaging, and the product category. Little guidance
or structure was necessary from the interviewer as the in-store
This
environment served as a stimulus for discussion.
allowed respondents to tell their own stories, facilitating a
spontaneous environment for discussion of a variety of
products, packages and personal experiences. The interviewer
utilized appropriate prompts and probes to elicit greater
The
elaboration of these issues (McCracken 1988).
respondents discussed an average of about fifty products each;
thus the exploratory data involved around two hundred fifty
consumer-package combinations.
Data collection continued until redundancy was reached
(McCracken 1988). Each interview was taped and transcribed
into written text. To focus, simplify and organize the data
from interview transcripts, data reduction techniques of
coding, summarizing and periodic discussions with informed
researchers were used (Miles and Huberman 1994). The initial
coding structure was based on the existing literature (academic
and managerial) concerning the role and impact of product
packaging in the marketplace. Multiple themes emerged from
the data including: aesthetics ofproduct packaging; duplicitous
packaging; environmental concerns; excessive packaging;
experiential packaging; national and regional product
authenticity; nostalgia; package functionality; packaging as a
point of differentiation; simplicity; upscale product
positioning; and visual equity. Several rounds of analysis were
required to challenge, develop, and refme these themes. The
resulting refmement of these themes organized the data into an
overarching structure constituting functional, symbolic and
experiential brand benefits realized via mediated and lived
experiences with product packaging. These benefits are
discussed below, highlighted by subject verbatirns illustrating
the communication of brand identity by packaging via both
mediated and lived experience. The selected verbatirns do not
illustrate all of the sub themes that emerged from the data,
however they do provide a rich illustration of the multiple
brand benefits realized via lived and mediated experiences.
Background discussion substantiating packaging as a mediated
and lived experience precedes the discussion below involving
the study verbatirns.
Packaging as a Mediated Experience
Because packaging exists as an element of masscommunication in the marketplace, consumers may experience

symbolism derived from packaging without engaging in the


actual purchase and usage of the product. This type of
mediated experience will generally take two forms: (1)
processing of package information at point of purchase; and
(2) processing ofpackaging in advertisements and promotional
communications. A survey of200 TV commercials covering
10 mass market product categories indicated that packaging is
often prominently featured in advertising spots; on average,
approximately 12 seconds of a 30 second advertisement is
devoted to featuring the package. For new products and/or
products that have received package updates, the
advertisements tended to feature the product even longer
(Keller 1998). Both of these forms of mediated experience
have the capacity to deliver meaning as a result of the shared
social meaning (public) innate to elements of package design.
A review of package design fundamentals reveals the
communicative power of this product attribute. Package
design is generally referred to as having two components,
graphics and structure (Hine 1995). Both graphic (e.g., color,
typeface, logos) and structural elements (e.g., shape, size,
materials) have the capacity to connote symbolism, as these
attributes often share a distinctive public meaning in a culture.
Package colors provide brand identification and visual
distinction, and also produce emotions and associations that
reinforce a brand's benefits and/or symbolism. For example,
noting the intense red carton color ofBrillo brand soap pads,
Hughes Design Group President, Barney Hughes explains
(Swientek 2001a), "Red is a high energy, action color that
reinforces the product's refreshing and cleansing action." An
optical brightener is also used on the brand's package ink,
providing a glossy look that conveys the product benefit of
"squeaky clean."
Hine (1995) notes that individuals experience color in
packaging at three different levels: the physiological, the
cultural, and the associational. The physiological response is
universal and involuntary (e.g., the color red speeding the
pulse, while the color green slows it down). The cultural
experience relates to visual conventions that have been
established over time in various societies (e.g., the color black
evoking images of wealth and elegance in Europe and the
Americas). The associational experience reflects the color
expectations for a particular product category and/or product
as a result of marketing efforts over time. The element of
color has the ability to: facilitate recognition of different
categories (e.g., bright colors relate to detergents, whites for
medicines); communicate product positioning (e.g., black and
gold symbolize prestige, elegance, wealth); serve as a code
within a category (e.g., yellow refers to lemon in detergents,
blue to peppermint, green to menthol in candy); and serve as
a cue for abstract attributes (e.g., green as environmentally
friendly, less-fattening) (Plasschaert 1995).
The move to overhaul Pepsi's package in the mid-1990's
illustrates the integral relationship ofpackaging and color with
brand identity. This move was necessitated by a need to
distinguish the brand from Coke's ubiquitous red color and by
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a concern that Pepsi's current package conveyed a meaning


that was incongruous with Pepsi's youthful positioning. The
conversion to an iridescent blue background with a "sea-of-ice
chunks" design resulted in imagery that management felt was
commensurate with the product meaning of "refreshing and
dynamic in a contemporary way" (Khermouch, Thompson &
Benzra 1997).
The second component of package design, structural elements
(e.g., shape, size, materials) also reflect a "great deal about the
nature and personality of a product" (Young 1996). Many
functional package features such as no-drip spouts,
microwavable containers, aseptic packages, tamper proofseals
and zip-lock bags among others, generate a measure of
symbolic utility in addition to the expected functional utility
associated with enhanced usage capability, the easing of
disbursement, and improved security and protection. This
symbolism usually takes the form of convenience, enhanced
quality, or role associations (e.g., females who perceive
themselves as dual career, busy, convenience-oriented
shoppers). Reebok' s new Fitness Water product represents an
excellent example of functional and symbolic benefit delivery
via package structure. The package's ErGo-Grip design, widemouth cap and slender shape improves gripping and
squeezability, reduces the "vacuum" effect when opening the
bottle, and, most importantly, suggests "fitness" to its on-thego workout enthusiast customers (Swientek 2001a).
The shape of a package represents a critical element for the
creation of imagery and identity as evidenced by brands such
as Absolute, Arizona Tea, Coca-Cola, Heinz, Mentadent and
Perrier (Lindsay 1997). Cosmetic products, especially
colognes and perfumes, have historically used unique package
shapes to convey an experiential and/or symbolic benefit (e.g.,
sexual, sensual message). Some enduring brands with unique
package shapes have reached an almost iconic status due to a
familiarity and consistency in package design. The original
glass Coca-Cola bottle with its distinctive hourglass shape and
Mrs. Butterworth's grandmother-like figurine represent such
symbolic icons. These brands benefit from tremendous "visual
equity," a term used to describe durable brands that build
equity in their visual image as a result of continuity of imagery
in packaging design. A UK research study showed that "visual
equity" provides a trigger for recognition and purchase, as well
as differentiating a brand from its competitors (Gofton 1993).
Michael Lucas, executive director of Brand Packaging,
Interbrand, New York, notes that given the needs of timepressed consumers who are seeking to locate familiar,
preferred brands, physical shape differentiation is a very
effective brand strategy (Bertrand 2002).
The following verbatims from the exploratory study illustrate
the communication of identity for the brand and for the self via
the shared social meanings (mediated experience) associated
with the elements of package design. Highlighted sub-themes
include the importance of color and product imagery for
quality perceptions, design elements conveying highend/upscale brand positioning, package design communicating
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Journal ofMarketing THEORY AND PRACTICE

a sense of national and/or regional brand authenticity, and


packaging that evokes nostalgic product images.
Product Imagery
An expected theme that emerged from the data was the
importance of product imagery (e.g., pictures) and the use of
color in product packaging. The verbatims below indicate that
these design elements provide a cue to the quality of the
product, often influencing brand beliefs and product choice.
As brand loyalties decrease and the frequency of buying
decisions made at the store shelf increase (POP AI 2001), the
aesthetic appeal of the package arguably increases in
importance. Consider the following quotes,
Mrs. Smith's pies, They look, the way they are
packaged, they look so good, just like you want to
slip them in the oven and bake them and they make
you want one just by looking at it (Billie).
Like all of their (Ben and Jerry's ice cream)
packages are different and very colorful. And then
there are little details in the artist work on here that
you are going to look at.... They kind of appeal to
you on a number ofdifferent levels and you may have
the eye-catching thing, yet it is kind of tasteful. You
feel like that it is very high quality (Lisa).
I just love their packaging. I guess it is the black
with the pizza on the front foreground ... I mean when
I look at Red Baron it makes me hungry (Heather).
(Frozen dinners) I always look at what is on the
front. Because ifit looks appetizing, then more than
likely the food inside is going to be appetizing
(Heather).
The Ore Ida French fries to me are packaged where
they look like they taste better. Like the fries are
more brown compared to, the London Farms. They
are more white looking (Billie).

In tum, product packages suffering from poor product imagery


are not likely to enter into the consumer's consideration set at
the point of purchase.
And I probably will never try Kroger's corn flakes
because I don't think they look appealing to me. And
why, I'm not exactly sure. But even the flakes, look
at the difference ofthe flakes they show on the box ...
they look more fake or something. These look lighter
and crispier. And those look really thick. They look
like potato chips or something (Lisa).
And you look at the picture on the front of it
(Kroger's Chicken Skillet Magic) and it sort ofshows
you, oh it's going to turn into fettuccini alfredo here.
Shows you what you are going to be eating once you

add a little chicken to this. The box just really


doesn't look very appetizing to me. It just doesn't
look like something that is just delicious (Barry).
Upscale Positioning

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One of the more overt illustrations of the power of packaging


symbolism involves package design strategies that serve to
provide a radical new upscale positioning for a brand.
Consider the following quote from a subject illustrating the
impact that packaging can have on the image of a private label
brand.
And I look and see Kroger's deluxe. And for a
moment there, I actually did not see the Kroger and
I thought it was a high-class product. I would have
never, ifI hadn't seen that little tiny Kroger, I would
have just assumed that it belonged in the high-class
product category. I would have never thought that it
was a generic brand. Because the coloring, it's kind
of light yellow with little gray speckles. It kind of
looks like the packaging is higher class than the other
cookies that they had down at the other end
(Heather).
The mediated experience with the package at point ofpurchase
serves to potentially alter existing perceptions that locate their
origin in the shared social understanding of private label
products. The package fosters an improved identity for a
product that was once purely positioned on low price. This
example illustrates the enhanced role for packaging for private
label products. Studies suggest that consumers rely on
extrinsic cues more in evaluating private label products than
they do in evaluating national brands, thus heightening the
effects of package design on private label brands (Richardson
1994).
Individual brands and entire product categories often benefit
from package designs that incorporate elements that have a
shared social meaning of status, wealth, and/or upscale
positioning. These products appeal both to the actual self of
the upscale consumer and the ideal self of the consumer
seeking to feel upscale. The following example illustrates the
power of design elements that reflect a mediated experience
(shared social meaning) that may likely communicate a
heightened sense of self for the consumer through purchase
and usage (lived experience).
And then the one that really catches my eye, I have
never tasted it, these are what I would call yuppie
juices. Sparkling white grape juice, red grape juice,
Nears Sparkling Apple Cider ... a lot of them have
foil tops on them and a gold package, frequently
indicating a kind ofhigh-end product. Very elegant
classy kind ofart work ... There is even, even though
this is juice, there is like an emblem here, like a fine
liquor would have ... They are really dressed up to
look like champagne or spirit or something like that,

and yet they are only a juice. There is no alcohol in


them. And they do have a look ofa liquor bottle. And
I think they are clearly an attempt to get at the highend market and to make people thing that they are
sort of an elegant aristocratic drink (Barry).
The inclusion of design elements that connote upscale
positioning also serves to differentiate products in categories
that are relatively homogenous in scope. The following quote
illustrates this point.
And then you look and see a couple of brands, like
Newman's, which is different, and Gerrard's, which
the bottle is different. The label is different. It
doesn't have a picture ofanything on it. It looks very
classy because it has the gold foil wrapped around
the top and it's got like a goldish bronze color on it.
And the bottle looks very classy. So that catches my
eye. And the rest of them, they all look the same
(Heather).

Regional and/or National Brand Authenticity


An unanticipated theme that emerged from the data was the
capacity of packaging to strongly convey ethnic and/or
national (i.e., country of origin) symbolism for products.
These images served to validate the positive social beliefs
about the authenticity and quality of these products and also
create a point of differentiation for the brand at point of
purchase. Consider the following four quotes as examples.
They seem very ethnic. I have friends who are from
Italy and they always have these big things of olive
oil, all these tins around their house. So it just has
kind ofa really ethnic feel to me (Lisa).
All olive oils, I mean it is just incredible the
packaging on them. They are so different, so exotic.
Like it is all from Italy so you are getting something
straight from Italy or the regions around there,
instead ofboring corn oil. So I am more likely to buy
an olive oil based on the bottles and labels because
I just like the way they look better ... looks like this is
in a tin can ... I can't even pronounce it but it looks
Italian (Heather).
It (linguini) just has like different flavors in it. Like
this one has tomatoes, basil. So it is a little different
and I guess packaging wise, it looks like, it has the
colors of the Italian flag on it. I mean you look at .
that and you feel like somebody off the boat from
Italy would buy this stuff. Well, so will I (Lisa).
Maybe the fact that it (rice), like, gives you that
flavor ofa different countryfeeling. You know, it has
the picture and the near east thing. I think that's
what it is. It's like the feel of being in a different
Winter 2003

67

country or something. You can't go there, but you


can buy food from there (Diana).

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These packages will arguably augment the lived experience


with these brands as well, highlighting the ethnic associations
of the consumption experience. The examples illustrate
strategic opportunities for brand managers to leverage the
ethnic symbolism in a variety of product categories. This
strategy may also be applied to brands indigenous to various
geographic regions within a country. Packaging that strongly
conveys the image/culture of a region (e.g., Deep South, New
England, Tex-Mex) may serve to strengthen the identity and
authenticity of the brand. Examples of regional identity and
product authenticity came through in the following verbatims.

Now this (Farmer's County Syrup) is kind of


simplistic. And it makes you feel like, you know,
these people in rural Alabama were out there, really
working hard for you and you want to support them.
This, you kind offeel this is very natural (Lisa).
Because they (April Grow Farms of Vermont) look
very different. They look like they are homemade.
They are not processed. I mean they all are, but they
look more homemade. Just the whole home feel, kind
ofhome madefeeling (Diana).

And I suppose the bottle that I recognize the quickest


here is the oldfashioned Heinz Tomato ketchup that
goes back as long as I can remember. And it has the
traditional Heinz seal and, of course, established
1869, and so forth (Barry).
I know I like the green (Smuckers jelly label). It
looks more old timey. It has the established date,
country kitchen kind offeel, I guess. And they have
the checker top ... this thing even gives it a country
kind offeel ... the imprinted signature, you know, like
those old kind of glass things that you actually put
preserves in (Diana).
The verbatims above illustrate the critical role of package
imagery in the shared social understanding of the brand, a
phenomenon that represents a mediated experience. Whether
one has directly experienced (i.e., purchase, usage) these
products or not, brands such as Absolut vodka, Arm &
Hammer baking soda, Budweiser, Campbell's soup, Hershey'S
chocolate, and Quaker Oats oatmeal are well defined in the
culture, due in part to the visual equity of the brand. The
package, as such, exists as both a means to transfer or create
meaning into culture and a cultural product itself (Elliott &
Wattanasuwan 1998).
Packaging as a Lived Experience

Nostalgia
An additional theme emerging from the study data was the
power of packaging to evoke feelings of nostalgia for certain
products. Nostalgia serves as a potent weapon for brand
differentiation, especially among consumer nondurables.
Social experts suggest that the appeal of nostalgia stems from
a longing for a return to simpler times when product quality
and craftsmanship were highly regarded and seemingly more
prevalent (Cheskin Research 1998). Consumers also have a
tendency to equate longevity with quality (Naughton & Vlasic
1998). Brands such as Coca-Cola, Cracker Jack, Crayola
Crayons, Ivory Soap, Necco wafers, Sun-Maid raisins, and
Star Kist tuna are but a few of the many brands that have
sought to engender this appeal through recent changes in
package design. The nostalgic packaging design suggests that
a brand has endured, thus conveying a heightened level of
brand trust (Swientek 2001b). The following verbatims
illustrate the strength of these brand associations and the role
of packaging as a vehicle for those associations.

... there is kind of a theme of the box (Celestial


Seasonings Tea) that is something that is sort ofold
world, and traditional, and I think you can almost
envision gray haired ladies playing cards, drinking
tea. .And the box reflects that kind of romantic
pictures, romantic era pictures, and oldfashionness
that seems to go along with the product of tea itself.
(Barry)
68

Journal ofMarketing THEORY AND PRACTICE

The discussion to this point has focused on the shared


understanding of symbolic meaning inherent to and/or
communicated by product packaging. Though commonality
in meaning exists for some objects, what may be most
significant is the way that individuals defme it (Blumer 1969).
Within the context of packaging, the meaning created and
delivered may be due in great part to the idiosyncratic
experience arising from our possession and interaction with
the brand. It is largely via the lived experience where
packaging gains its power as a communication vehicle for
brand meaning. The meaning conveyed by packaging through
the lived experience thus entails a measure of both private and
public meaning.
Unlike advertising, packaging is a marketing communication
vehicle that is tangible in nature. The package resides in the
home, performing a number of functional roles. In addition,
during this time the package continually communicates an
identity via the public or private meaning elicited by its
design. For example, a consumer may realize a measure of
enhanced self-image as a result ofa prestigious design, and/or
extract feelings of family or nostalgia via a brand with a strong
history and continuity in package design. Consumers whose
self-image includes the concept of being environmentally
conscious confirm these beliefs each time they purchase and
use ecologically friendly or "green" packaging. Package
designs that provide an enhanced level of functional utility
often offer genuine value to the consumer, providing a direct
illustration of the importance of the lived experience. New
packaging features (e.g., traditional yogurt packages including

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a snap out spoon; yogurts packaged in tubes) for Columbo


yogurt have made the product more portable and convenient,
resulting in a product name change (Go-Curt) and increased
sales (Freeman 1999). The development ofthe "Milk Chugs"
package has arguably revolutionized an industry whose
product was heretofore not portable, not resealable, difficult to
open and suffering from decreasing per-capita consumption.
The contemporary plastic milk bottle design by Dean's Food
Company is both functional and nostalgic, increasing usage
occasion opportunities and enhancing milk's position as an
alternative to other portable beverages (e.g., soda, juices)
(Markgraph 1997). Both of these dairy products have
increased their relevance to the lives of today's on-the-go
consumer via innovative packaging.
The following verbatims from the exploratory study illustrate
the communication of identity for the brand and for the selfvia
the lived experience between consumer and the product.
These themes include packaging communicating the product
experience, the positive and negative utility associated with
package functionality, and the signaling of a sense of nostalgia
for the consumer. These feelings and experiences may also
serve to heighten the relationship between the consumer and
the brand.
Product Experience
Packaging is critical to the communication ofthe "promise" of
the product experience prior to the sampling of the product
(Killip 1997). Experiential benefits generally correspond to
product-related attributes and relate to what it feels like to use
the product or service, satisfying needs such as sensory
pleasure, variety and cognitive stimulation (Keller 1993).
Research concerning product imagery and imagery processing
relates directly to the concept of experiential benefits. Imagery
involves concrete sensory representations of ideas, feelings,
and memories and may be evoked via any sensory dimension,
smell, taste, sight, or tactile sensations (Yuille & Catchpole
1977). When engaged in an imagery-processing mode,
consumers' sensory perceptions are stimulated such that they
focus on the possible outcomes and sensory experiences
associated with the brand. Therefore, brands that provide
sensory pleasure, variety and/or cognitive stimulation are
likely to benefit from packaging that stimulates imagery
processing. Consider the following quotes as examples.
Its (Arizona Ice Tea) got that big wide mouth that
really looks like a booze container. I drink this stuff
and I see myself sitting in a cattle town saloon,
putting down shots of whiskey. And even though the
price is outrageous, I still buy this stuff once in a
while. Because I just love the package, it looks like
a liquor bottle. It's got that sort of southwestern
color, a kind of maze of colors (Barry).
And it just looks like a way to spoil yourself Like a
rose on this Capri Foam Bath. Something about that
packaging says, come spoil yourself This looks like

something you would want in your bathroom. Both


the packaging and for taking a bath. Like it gives
you an excuse to take a bath (Lisa).
Well, I like these, the General Foods International
coffees. Yea, the little tins. There is something very
relaxing about these. They look; I don't know how to
explain it. Again, it might be that you have
connotations with it ... They are advertisingfor these
things, there are always two people and a very
relaxed situation, looking back on something. You
know, nice and pleasant. They are always laughing.
It always like a very intimate kind of time, just not
worrying about something. So you look at these
(tins) and you have an instant reaction ofrelaxation.
And you want to create that for yourself, so you buy
it (Lisa).
Well, like (Celestial Seasonings) tension tamer, its
got the dragon on it, with a women sitting on it and
the labels are very beautiful. I always buy Sleepy
time. And I mean, it's just Camomile which I can
buy any other brand like Biggolo. And it the same
kind but there is something about Sleepy time. Its got
this little teddy bear with his little hat on and it just
makes me think that I'm going to be a sleepy bear ...
(Heather).

In these four examples the package facilitates the imagery


associated with the lived experience, allowing the consumer to
anticipate these benefits. The General Foods International
coffee example also illustrates the solid integration of
symbolism generated by the mediated experiences of
packaging and advertising. The small tin, with its limited
portions and resealable lid, is unique to the product category.
The design is commensurate with the symbolism
communicated by the advertising of the brand, a type of coffee
that is saved for special moments between friends.
The benefits (experiential, functional and/or symbolic)
provided by product packaging via the lived experience may
contribute to the development and/or the strengthening of a
relationship between the consumer and the brand. Within the
consumer-brand relationship literature, Fournier (1998)
suggests that for a brand to serve as a legitimate relationship
partner, the brand must behave as an active, contributing
member of the dyad. Strategic marketing mix decisions are
considered to represent sets of behaviors on behalf of the
brand, for which trait inferences about the brand are made and
through which the brand's personality is actualized.
Packaging certainly represents a discrete outcome of strategic
marketing mix decisions, an outcome that is tangible and
continuous in its behavior. This form of brand behavior and
the symbolic meaning generated has the capacity to deliver an
added measure of value, often a differentiating factor among
relatively homogenous consumer nondurables. The added
value may playa central role in creating and/or enhancing the
quality of the relationship between consumer and brand,
Winter 2003

69

strengthening one or more dimensions of brand relationship


quality (Fournier 1998).

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Product Functionality
For example, package features that enhance the functionality
of a product often represent to the consumer a meaningful
action on the part of the brand (Bertrand 2002). A strategic
package design change conveys a sense of enhanced concern
or recognition of the consumer's needs or desires, heightening
the brand-partner quality component of the consumer brand
relationship. Increasingly, marketers are realizing the potential
of package function to influence product usage. Cultural
dynamics have contributed to a change in consumer
perceptions of packaging from a focus on commodity and cost
to a demand for easy access and readability, easy-fit
storability, eco-sensitivity, clear freshness dating and
portability (Doyle 1999). Packages that make the product
more convenient to use and/or reduce serving time add value
to the brand by providing fun and functionality. Coca-Cola's
recent introduction of the Fridge Pack TM is an excellent
example, saving precious refrigerator space and making the
storage of soft drinks easier than ever before (Philadelphia
Coca-Cola Bottling Company May 20, 2002). A recent study
by the Consumer Research Network suggests that for products
in the cracker and cookie category, 60% of users will make a
purchase decision based on improved packaging functionality
(Doyle 1999). Enhanced functionality may also contribute to
the identity of the brand. The Pringles potato chip product in
the user-friendly canister is a classic example of the
relationship between enhanced functionality and brand
identity. The following verbatirns reflect enhanced usage
capability and convenience (lived experience) provided
through package design, and in the case of Mentadent, an
enhanced identity.

I like the new plastic bottles (Kraft Salad Dressing),


just squeeze ... but it's like this flip thing so you don't
have to untwist it. And it's like a little spout and you
can squeeze it out. I like that. It's not as messy and
it makes it easier (Diana).
Well, I do like these easy seal bags thing (cheese).
It's kind of nice, especially with the shredded stuff,
cause you don't usually use it all at once. And then
you can seal it back up again really easy without
having to transfer it (Lisa).
But Mentadent has this really weird pump. And I like
the box that it comes in and I like the fact that they
have refills. It is the only toothpaste that you can get
a refill for. And I love the tube that it comes out of
It's great. It stands up pretty tall but it looks really
cool. I like the way it looks compared to like the
Crest squeezes and all their little pumps. And this
one stands up. All you have to do with this is put a
toothbrush under it and push down, so it is very
simple to use (Heather).
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Journal ofMarketing THEORY AND PRACTICE

And also these (Celestial Seasonings Tea) have a


plastic wrap around them. So it makes them seem
like they're sealed so the tea will be fresh, versus the
other ones. None of the other ones really have it so
it makes it seem like they have a higher quality tea
than the other brands (Heather).
Packages that fail to enhance product use or convenience, or
worse, provide a level of functional disutility, negatively
impact the lived experience and thus are likely to damage the
consumerlbrand relationship. Often, the consumer attributes
a reduction in functionality as a lack of manufacturer concern
for the consumer. This attribution comes across clearly in the
following quotes:

What I have always wondered is that as easily as


pasta breaks, why they have not put these things in
something that absorbs a little more shock. You see
almost everything here in a cardboard package ...
And pasta itselfis brittle kind ofstuff and you rarely
get home from the store and don't find at least a
piece or two of the pasta pieces aren't broken just
from the general shifting and handling (Barry).
One thing that they could do if they really wanted to
be more functional would be to put some sort of
Ziploc bag kind of thing on the inside because a lot
of times cereal, unless you eat it really quickly, can
go bad (Lisa).
You see what they've (Tide Detergent) got there is a
little kind ofa zipped top here that you pull, little pull
tab kind ofthing and it opens the whole top ofit. But
what is interesting about it is that when you get into
it, the product is packedjust slightly higher than the
zip top. So what happens is that you cannot avoid
spilling at least just a little of it just in the opening
process ... I can't believe that the people that make
this don't understand that the way they fill it and then
put the lid on and then it doesn't fit back all that
well, that they could not be aware of how difficult it
really is to use this product (Barry).
Because really, most of the potato chip bags, you
cannot see through them, see how much you are
getting in them either. It's just that you don't know
what you are getting. And you don't know how
crushed they are. You don't know whether you are
getting nice big chips or you are getting all crushed
up ... Why do they have such a big bag is what I don't
understand (Billie).
All these boxes of ice cream have these stupid flaps.
I hate the flaps. There is like four different ones.
You have to fold them just right. But the Breyer's,
you just take the lid offand you put it back on and it
is just so simple to do, you don't have to worry about
all kinds offlaps (Heather).

The above verbatims are congruent with consumer sentiment


in the marketplace. A seminal report on consumer product
packaging, "Packaging at the Crossroads," (Doyle 1999)
suggests that consumers are increasingly demanding less
hassle, more efficient product packaging. For many low
involvement consumer nondurables, the added functional
utility provided by packaging often becomes the critical point
of differentiation in the category.

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Nostalgia
In addition to the facilitation of a shared social understanding
of the brand (mediated experience), visual equity provided by
nostalgic packaging design elements also serves to signal the
memory of the lived experience consumers have with brands
that have a place in their family history. These "family
brands" typically acquire a depth of meaning during
childhood, unattainable by brands at later stages in life (Elliott
& Wattanasuwan 1998). The package serves as the trigger to
the rich associations with the nostalgic brand. The following
quotes illustrate the critical role of design continuity in making
salient the lived experience with the brand.
I grew up with this stuff(Welch's Concord Jelly) and
whenever we had peanut butter andjelly at my house
when I was a kid, this was about the only jelly that
we had ... So when my wife and I go to the store, and
we are looking around, she is probably sick to death
ofseeing this stuffin our cupboards, but when I come
I just get this kind of old fashion feel and I like this.
And notice that it is no accident that their label
connotes kind ofoldfashion values ... Something that
connotes kind offamily structure and holidays and
that kind of thing. And I think this stuffjust reeks in
terms ofthe idea that it is wholesome, and goes back
into your family history, and that somehow it would
be an atrocity to buy anything else after your mother
served it to you for so many years (Barry).
And like this, the original corn flakes ... it's so
traditional, it's not glitzy ... That makes me feel that
it is more of a true product. A product with more
history behind it .,. I buy Kellogg's Corn Flakes and
not Kroger's corn flakes because of the packaging,
and because of my history with cornflakes. It's like
I know this (Lisa).

The above discussion suggests that the power of packaging as


a marketing communication vehicle may be due in great part
to its inherent tangible form; a form that the consumer interacts
with through the purchase and usage of the product (lived
experience). The tangible form is variant from the intangible
nature of most marketing communication vehicles (e.g.,
advertising, direct marketing, publicity, sales promotion). This
interaction affords the marketer not only the opportunity to
deliver aesthetic benefits or symbolism, but in addition, added
value via enhanced functionality.
These benefits can
contribute to an enhanced brand identity, a corresponding

enhancement of the self and the creation and/or strengthening


of the relationship between the consumer and the brand.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
An examination of the study verbatims provides some insight

into the manner in which the package communicates a sense


of identity for the product and the self. The data suggest that
packaging is often the differentiating factor in product
categories where minor variance exists among competing
brands. Once a brand choice is established within a category,
the package serves as the tangible symbol of the existing
relationship between consumer and brand. Although the data
are illuminating, they also illustrate the difficulty many
consumers have in expressing the symbolism derived from
packaging. Packaging has been referred to as a symbol that
penetrates the mind and often elicits feelings that are often
difficult to put into words and that to some degree may be
idiosyncratic, feelings that are relevant to whether a consumer
will accept, desire, and use the product (Harckham 1989).
According to Keller's (1993) model of brand knowledge (i.e.,
customer-based brand equity framework), the power of a
brand resides in the minds of consumers (i.e., strong, positive
and unique brand associations). For many products, especially
nondurables, these associations are a result of product
packaging that communicates and/or contributes an intended
meaning for the brand. Packaging can be viewed as a window
on the culture, a sort of Rosetta stone of values (Shell 1996).
The package serves as the tangible embodiment of a product
symbol, often playing a major role in strengthening or
weakening the emotional bond between consumer and brand.
The ability of packaging to arouse emotions is often just as
important as its functional capability to store and protect its
contents (Feig 1999). Packaging can thus provide shape and
tangible form to both the product and buyer's image; it can
serve as an expression of brand personality and of
individuality. In addition, package design impacts customerbased brand knowledge (Keller 1993) by heightening the recall
and recognition of a brand. Visual equity can result from a
continuity and/or uniqueness in design, adding to brand
awareness and serving to differentiate the brand at the point of
purchase.
Per the background literature discussed and the preliminary
fmdings from the exploratory study, we forward a model (See
Figure 1) that presents an alternative conceptualization of
product packaging and its role in the brand communication
process. The model positions packaging as a product-related
attribute capable of influencing the identity of the brand and
the self through the creation and conveyance of experiential,
functional and/or symbolic brand benefits (Park, Jaworski, and
MacInnis 1986) to the consumer via both lived and mediated
experiences. We believe this reconceptualization more
accurately reflects the relative role of packaging to the total
product offering in today's marketplace, especially for
consumer nondurables.
Winter 2003

71

FIGURE 1

Product-Related
Attribute
Lived
1 - Experience -----+

Packaging
Design Elements
Graphics
0
Color
0

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Typef~ce

Logos
Etc;
0
Structure
0
Shape
0
Size
Material
0
0
Etc.
0

Benefits
Experiential
Functional
Symbolic

The model illustrates that packaging contributes benefits to the


brand and ultimately the consumer via fundamental design
elements of graphics and structure. Brand identity is defined
herein as the contribution of all brand elements to brand
awareness and brand image (Keller 1998). Consumers garner
experiential, functional, and/or symbolic benefits from the
brand packaging via lived and mediated experiences,
contributing to an enhanced self-identity and/or strengthening
the relationship between the consumer and brand. Based upon
this framework, the following propositions are forward:
Packaging communicates identity (i.e., awareness
and image) for the brand and for the self via the
shared social meanings (mediated experience)
associated with the elements of package design.

P2:

Packaging communicates identity for the brand and


for the self through purchase and usage (lived
experience) via the public and private meaning
associated with elements of package design.

P3:

72

Packaging can playa central role in creating and/or


determining the quality of the relationship between
consumer and brand, especially among consumer
nondurables.

Journal ofMarketing THEORY AND PRACTICE

an=ti~=f-----.I

Br
Iden

1---+

This positioning is in contrast with Keller's (1993, 1998)


depiction of packaging as a non-product related attribute.
Keller's conceptualization considers packaging to be a
contributing element to brand identity, however, not directly
related to product performance. Our reconceptualization is
congruent with earlier work which classified packaging as a
property or characteristic of the product (Evans and Berman
1992), and/or an intrinsic or extrinsic product attribute (Olson
and Jacoby 1972; Zeithaml 1972). For many products,
especially relatively homogenous consumer nondurables,
packaging is the product (Deasy 1997). It's relative
contribution to the total utility (experiential, functional and
symbolic) provided by the product offering warrants this
reconceptualization.

PI:

Self
Identity

Mediated
Experience f-----+'

ConsumerBrand
Relationship

MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS
A variety of macro environmental trends suggest an increasing
role for product packaging as a brand communication vehicle.
One such trend is the degree of brand proliferation in the
market. Approximately 20,000 new products are introduced
each year in the grocery industry, presenting today's
consumers with unprecedented product choice. In addition to
the growing number of new products, managers are redirecting
their communication efforts to be more in line with changes in
consumer behavior. A 1995 consumer buying habits study
produced by Point-of-Purchase Advertising International
suggests that approximately 70% of all in-store decisions are
made at the point of purchase in the supermarket (POP AI
2001). Therefore, funds traditionally allocated for brandbuilding mass media advertising campaigns are increasingly
being diverted to sales and trade promotion and point-ofpurchase communication efforts. As part of this strategy,
managers are more and more utilizing product packaging as a
vehicle for brand differentiation and identity, especially for
relatively homogenous consumer nondurables (Spethmann
1994; Markgraf1997; AMA 1998; Swientek 2001a; Bertrand
2002; Doyle 2002).
Michael Hogan, Vice President of Marketing for Frito Lay,
echoes these trends. Commenting on his firm's recent
reassessment of product packaging, Hogan notes, "It's not that
we didn't put a lot of effort into our packaging before. We
treated packaging like it was a cost-of-sale element, a cost of
the product, not like it was a communication element ... We
actually can (now) build a much more compelling image for
our brand in-store than out-of-store" (AMA 1998, p. 5).
One of the more powerful recent trends for consumer
nondurable products is the development of packaging
"smalls"; in other words, smaller sizes of traditional consumer
brands. From Star Kist lunches to go, to Listerine PocketPak
strips, to Smucker's Snackers, smaller size packages are a
response to consumers' hectic and mobile lifestyle. The
appeal of the "smalls" is not the traditional price per unit, but
the manageability, convenience and portability of the product

(Doyle 2002). Thus, consumers are realizing added functional


value and possibly symbolic value from the product offering
due to strategic changes to the product packaging.

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The traditional role of the package has been to protect, contain


and deliver the product to the retail shelf, gain the attention of
the consumer at point-of-purchase, convey a strong distinctive
brand identity, and swiftly communicate the brand's features,
quality, and value (Shell 1996; Feig 1999). Multiple market
factors (e.g., reduced advertising budgets) and consumer trends
(e.g., mobile lifestyle; in-store decision making) point to a
heightened role for product packaging in the marketing mix.
For many products, especially consumer nondurables,
packaging strategy should be at the forefront of brand strategy.
It is imperative that brand managers critically identify the core
essence/offering of the product and evaluate the degree to
which product packaging can enhance and/or effectively
communicate that offering in the marketplace.
DISCUSSION
This work conceptually positions product packaging as a
product-related attribute capable of influencing the identity of
the brand and the self, while also strengthening the consumerbrand relationship. Emergent themes from a qualitative study
offer support for this conceptual positioning. Themes
emerging from the data included: aesthetics of product
packaging; duplicitous packaging; environmental concerns;
excessive packaging; experiential packaging; international and
regional product authenticity; nostalgia; package functionality;
packaging as a point of differentiation; simplicity; upscale
product positioning; and visual equity.
Data suggest
consumers' knowledge (awareness and image) ofa brand is to
a degree a function of their mediated and lived experience with
product packaging. Marketers would be well served to
leverage the communicative capacity of product packaging to
differentiate their brand at point of purchase and to strengthen
consumer-brand relationships.
Given the exploratory objectives of the study, some limitations
to the data should be noted. The interviews were conducted
in a single retail grocery establishment over a two-week
period. Subjects' selection (for discussion purposes) and

perception of specific brands and their packages were likely


influenced by retail variables associated with that particular
store. These include store atmospherics, image, and multiple
point of purchase merchandising vehicles (e.g., price cues,
displays, coupon dispensers). The lack of variance in the retail
format (i.e., grocery store only) gives an incomplete picture of
the impact of packaging on the brand and the consumer.
Subjects were also interviewed in a non-shopping trip mode,
thus the direct impact of packaging on brand choice was not
measured. Given the qualitative nature of the study, it was
not our intention to utilize a sample that was representative of
the general population, but per McCracken (1988), we
attempted to create a contrast in the respondent pool by age,
gender and social class. This effort was intended to minimize
the likelihood that the results would be considered anecdotal.
While contrast across age, gender, and social class was
achieved, the respondents may have more education than the
"typical American shopper." How this would impact the
perception of product packaging in a shopping environment is
unclear. The data represent idiosyncratic viewpoints from a
small group of individuals. We would not expect the
viewpoints of the respondents to generalize across all
individuals and product categories; however, the data
generated from the study do provide support for the conceptual
positioning forwarded in the paper.
As managers continue to divert funds from traditional
advertising vehicles to more promotional-oriented vehicles,
packaging assumes more of a brand-building role in the
marketer's communications mix. Further theory development
is necessary to identify the myriad influences packaging has
on consumer cognitions, attitudes and behaviors. Our
framework suggests some opportunities for study in these
areas. Specifically, fertile ground for research includes efforts
designed to examine the effects of: visual equity (package
design continuity); ethnic, national and/or regional package
imagery; product imagery and functional and experiential
design elements on the construction of brand identity and
consumer-brand relationships. Additionally, research that
attempts to identify and measure variables or situations (e.g.,
buying contexts, product categories, retail formats) that affect
the relative importance of product packaging to the brand and
to the consumer will be highly valued.

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Dr. Robert L. Underwood (Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), is an assistant professor, University
of Alabama-Birmingham, School of Business, Department of Marketing, Management & Industrial Distribution. His
research has been published in a number of refereed journals including Annual Advances in Business Cases, Journal of
Marketing Communications, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, Journal of Product and Brand Management and
Social Indicators Research. His current research interests include theoretical and managerial issues related to brand building
in consumer products, services, and business-to-business markets.

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