Consumers Often Judge Products by Labels


The Houston Chronicle has an interesting article about labels and how they influence our purchasing decisions.

Written by: Brent Hunsberger, Newshouse News

Do we judge a wine by its label?

Yes, and new research counts the ways.

The results shed light not only on consumers’ snap shopping

judgments but also on marketing opportunities for other consumer

products, including fragrances, footwear and MP3 players.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in helping consumers make a good

choice,” said Keven Malkewitz, an assistant marketing professor at

Oregon State University who co-authored the study. “The package helps

people make a decision.”

The study, “Holistic Package Design and Consumer Brand Impressions,”

appeared this month in the Journal of Marketing, co-written by Ulrich

Orth, a marketing professor at the University of Kiel in Germany. It

was funded in part by Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Ore.

Past marketing research suggests that packaging is extremely

important in selling products because consumers encounter them when

they’re highly engaged mentally in making buying decisions. But little

independent research had been done on which designs evoke specific,

desired responses, Malkewitz said.

To figure that out, Malkewitz and Orth photographed 160 wine

bottles, mostly of less-recognized brands. They asked 125 experts —

graphic or industrial designers — to analyze the aesthetic attributes

of each bottle. Then, they sorted responses into five primary design

types: massive (or bold), contrasting, natural, delicate and


Next, researchers showed photos of the bottles to 268

consumers in Oregon. They asked 15 questions about each bottle’s “brand

personality,” including whether the brands seemed sincere, exciting,

competent, sophisticated or even rugged.

The results? Consumers found “massive” packaging (Wine by Joe was an

example) and contrasting designs (the label on Australia’s Yellow Tail)

to be exciting and eye-catching. But they also expected them to be low

in competence and sophistication, of lower quality and less expensive,

the study found. Additionally, wines with highly contrasting designs

were thought to be rugged.

Natural designs — like Washington state's Chateau Ste. Michelle —

were thought to be sincere, competent and sophisticated wines, but not

especially exciting. Consumers also expected these wines to be

expensive but of high quality and a good value.

Delicate designs — Italy's Travaglini, for example — also scored

high on competence and sophistication and were expected to be of high

quality, classy and expensive. Consumers found nondescript designs —

California's Fusee — insincere, and believed they were corporate and of

little value for the money.

Malkewitz said the results showed some wineries — Yellow Tail's

colorful kangaroo set against a black backdrop — have successfully

aligned their packaging with their content and pricing, sending a clear

message to consumers.

"Yellow Tail is accurately signaling who they are and what they do

with their packaging," said Malkewitz, a former marketing executive at


'I'm not very competent'

Wine by Joe, however, might be slightly off-point, he said.

"The bottle is screaming, 'I'm not very expensive. I'm not very

competent.' " Malkewitz said, noting that the wine is more expensive

than Yellow Tail's and other mass-marketed wines.

Wine by Joe founder Joe Dobbes, a 22-year winemaking veteran, said

he designed his 5-year-old label almost tongue in cheek. His target:

Generation Xers who want an approachable but good-tasting wine to drink

during the week, at wedding receptions and "maybe funerals."

"The whole idea behind Wine by Joe is to give people a serious wine

without attitude — in other words, a great value," Dobbes said. "I'd

say don't let the label fool you. ... Really, it's only a beverage. ...

Don't get too caught up in it."

Sales grow quickly

He said consumers in the study might

have had a different impression had they seen the bottle instead of a

photo of it. The label, he said, features lettering in shiny,

black-foil ink that's punched in or debossed (rather than punched out

or embossed, like many high-priced wines).

In four Pacific Northwest supermarket chains — Safeway, Albertson's,

Fred Meyer and QFC — Wine by Joe's $18 Pinot Noir is the ninth-most

popular pinot and the most rapidly growing in sales, said Jessica

Villagrana, company vice president of marketing.

But sales are slower in "Ivy League states," Dobbes said, and

distributors there have complained the label turns off consumers.

"They're a little more uppity there," he added.

Research offers guidance

In attempting to extend their

results beyond wine, Malkewitz and Orth also put images of 120

fragrance bottles before a group of experts and 108 consumers. They

found different designs again evoked distinct impressions, with some

differences. Consumers did not find massive fragrance packages


"We fully expect there to be differences in product categories,"

Malkewitz said. But he said the research should provide marketers and

managers guidance for how to talk to designers and how to evoke

consumer responses to their products. Appealing package designs might

prompt consumers to pay higher prices for that product, he said.

Dobbes, for his part, has no plans to change Wine by Joe's label.

He'll just continue to taste-test his wine in stores and enter it in


"One of my mantras," he said, "is drink the wine, not the label."