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."