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Location, location, location: Image placement on packages can sway consumers, says UM study

Kahn-store2Consumer perceptions about products are swayed by where the image of the product is placed on its package, according to a new study from the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration.

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.” If it is placed on the lower or right side, the product is perceived to be “heavy.” The findings are significant for marketers seeking to design the best package for products when these perceived attributes are 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 Barbara Kahn, dean of the School of Business Administration and one of the study researchers. “Alternatively, a firm selling low-calorie foods or portable consumer electronic products would do better with the image in the upper or left side.” Kahn conducted the research with Xiaoyan Deng, an assistant professor at Ohio State University.

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, richness, 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 made a health claim such as “low-fat,” 66 percent of the product images were in the light locations. When no health claim was made, only 17 percent of the images were in these locations. Though interviews conducted with brand managers and package designers suggested that they had not been conscious of the perceptual implications of image placement, their intuition regarding 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,” Kahn said. “Still, many firms had not placed images in the optimal location, according to our study, and might benefit greatly from a few simple changes.”

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