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Dean Kahn’s Research on Product Packaging Featured in New York Times Article

August 19, 2009
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An article published in The New York Times Aug. 17 highlighted research by Dean Barbara Kahn, which found that where the image of a product is placed on its package influences how heavy or light the product is perceived to be by consumers. The Times article included quotes from Kahn discussing her findings. The research was also the subject of a segment that aired on the national TV program Nightly Business Report recently. The study, to be published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research, reveals that if the product image is located on the upper or left side of the package, the product is perceived to be “light,” and if it is placed on the lower or right side it is perceived to be “heavy.” The findings are significant for marketers seeking to design the best package for products when perceived “lightness” or “heaviness” is a factor in the purchase decision.

“This study indicates that a firm selling hearty beef stew would do best placing the image on the lower or right side of a package because heaviness in such products is important,” said Dean Kahn, who conducted the research with Xiaoyan Deng, an assistant professor at Ohio State University. “Alternatively, a firm selling low calorie foods or portable consumer electronic products (where lightness would be preferred) would do better with the image in the upper or left side.”

The findings are the result of a behavioral lab study in which 139 participants were asked to view the placement of product images on their respective packages and then rate how heavy or light they perceived the product to be. For products where the image was placed on the top or left, participants viewed the product as lighter. Conversely, when the product image was placed on the bottom or right of the package, participants viewed the product as heavier.

As part of the study, researchers also examined image placement on packages of nearly 300 different cookies and crackers on supermarket shelves. The product image was most often found at the lower  or right side on packages for products where the perception of heaviness is considered important (perhaps because it is associated with quality or taste), while the image was most often found near the top  or left side for products where lightness is important (e.g., for dietetic or health reasons).  For example in the cookie category, when the package had a health claim on it (e.g., low fat), 66 percent of the product images were in the light locations.  On the other hand, when there was no health claim, then only 17 percent of the images were in the light locations. Even though interviews conducted with brand managers and package designers suggested that the location effect was not an effect of which they were conscious, apparently their intuition as to best packaging practices generally supported the results found in the laboratory.

“Although not 100 percent consistent, there is empirical support for our findings, indicating that at some intuitive level - or as a result of market testing - managers are already aware of the impact of product image location,” said Kahn.  “Still, many firms had not placed images in the optimal location, according to our study, and might greatly benefit from a few simple changes.”

Read The New York Times Article

View Nightly Business Report Segment

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