People are strange

Human behaviour is a curious thing. When staff at a major corporation complained that the lifts took far too long, the bosses costed out a refit, discovered that it would be astronomical and called in a firm of behavioural specialists instead. Shortly afterwards full length mirrors were fitted by the lifts on each floor and the complaints stopped overnight.

Of course, vanity is one of the characteristics that everyone engaged in marketing exploits.

The brands you choose say something about you, but the process of choosing them is a “complex ecosystem of decisions – part of a whole framework of decision-making”, to quote a superb article by Rory Sutherland in Campaign last week (Campaign June 18).

The central theme of Rory’s piece was that advertising agencies needed to understand their audiences’ behavioural drivers more clearly. I urge you to read it, if for nothing else than to discover how Rolls Royce made £300,000 cars seem like a bargain.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how well packaging designers understand behavioural dynamics.

I was watching an old pal wrestle with a vac pack of coffee the other day. She was experiencing her second moment of truth, as Proctor & Gamble would have it. You know the theory where the first moment of truth is the buying decision at the fixture; the second is putting the product to use and the third buying again and recommending to someone else. Sitting in her kitchen, watching her stab the pack with a variety of increasingly sharp implements I felt embarrassed that the pack had failed so badly. Yet she maintained that it wouldn’t put her off because the flavour made it worthwhile.

What do you do with that? Pack performance is supposed to be critical at the second moment of truth, yet she was willing to hack at her coffee like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Clearly product performance overcame packaging. Would changing the pack make any difference to her purchasing behaviour? “Probably not,” she said. “But it would make life easier.”

I can’t help wondering how much that improvement would be worth in the broadest terms. Surely our job as designers is to make people’s lives better in whatever way we can, as well as to make brands rich and famous.

Sometimes it is possible to do both. When Blue Marlin redesigned infant formula packaging for Cow&Gate we went to extreme lengths to understand our audience, shadowing mothers day and night while they prepared and used formula. We quickly realised that they needed their second moment of truth to happen one handed – they needed to be able to prepare a feed while holding a wailing baby in the other arm. Our solution secured massive growth and market leadership for the brand and was hailed by mothers as life changing. The stack of letters we received from grateful mothers was a wonderful endorsement of the power of design.

Now…anyone fancy a coffee?

About the Author

Chris Hart is Creative Director at Blue Marlin, Bath. His favourite projects span global spirits brands and small-scale artisan products, from Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker to Hiho and Pukka Pies.