How packaging gets under your skin

Appealing to the reptilian brain

Liquid washing detergent are shaped like a female to attach the connotation of a caring female figure
Liquid washing detergent are shaped like a female to attach the connotation of a caring female figure

Packaging stimulates and elicits specific psychological responses in the oldest part of the brain of potential buyers – the reptilian or the lizard brain which is responsible for 90% of our decision making. Since the reptilian brain cannot decipher complex messages and is incapable of reading, packaging needs to trigger the psychological stimuli that compel decision making by the consumer.

The purchasing decision of a buyer is a complicapted process, which is influenced by advertisement, online and offline reviews, and psychological aspects. With the rising culture of self-service supermarkets and online shopping stores, packaging design highly influences purchasing decisions. The packaging of the product is the only stimulant when a product is placed on a shelf among other products. It is the physical rendition of a brand’s ideology and personality. Intelligent and creative packaging conveys what the producer physically cannot in a supermarket.

According to a study by Princeton University, people form an opinion about someone after seeing their face for merely 1/10th of a second. The opinions are based purely on the physical aspects of a person. The same process occurs when a person looks at packaging. Consumers make the decision of whether or not they like a particular product in mere seconds.

Appeasing the reptilian brain

Packaging design acts as a stimulus and elicits specific psychological responses in the oldest part of the brain of buyers, the reptilian or the lizard brain which is responsible for 90% of our decision making.

The reptilian brain exists as a survival mechanism from the beginning of time. It is self-centred and in order to appeal to it, brands need to focus their communication on the consumer rather than the brand itself. Consumers are more attracted to packaging that displays how it will serve them. Additionally, the reptilian brain cannot decipher complex messages and is incapable of reading, which means that the brands need to physically communicate what they can provide through the product packaging.

Product packaging designers take great care to assess how to appeal to the reptilian brain of a buyer towards making a favorable purchasing decision since it is the main driving force.


The first thing that attracts a buyer from a distance towards anything is color. It is the first difference a buyer notices about a product. Colors trigger a variety of emotional response in our subconcious mind. Understanding color psychology means knowing which color will best stand out on the shelf and will convey the right message. For example, a product meant to have a calming and soothing effect will not appear convincing if the color of its packaging is red, a color associated with passion, strength and aggression – a color proven to increase heart rate.

Coca-Cola uses red and white color in its packaging. Red color symbolizes energy, aggression and boldness, which is highly featured in Coca-Cola advertisements. It also goes with the crisp and bubbly taste of the soft drink. While Pepsi uses blue and red color, blue symbolizes peace and tranquility. However, the red and white of Coke is recognizable by 94% of the world’s population, according to an article on Business Insider’s website.

The Pepsi paradox

The popularity of Coca-Cola and its packaging has resulted in the famous Pepsi paradox. It is an example of how brand loyalty can affect a buyer’s purchasing decision and may not be related to the quality of the product at all.

In 1957, PepsiCo undertook the Pepsi challenge and found that when presented with colas in unlabelled glasses from the two brands, Pepsi and Coca Cola, most people chose Pepsi over Coke. However, its inability to overcome its rival’s marketing in terms of customer preference was termed the Pepsi paradox.

The blind taste test is an example of how aggressive marketing strategy and the color symbolism as well as brand loyalty of the product significantly affects the purchasing decision of buyers.


The shape of a package significantly influences the buyer’s decision because of its capability to incite emotional responses in people. When the shape of a packaging matches the idea of the product, the product will instantly attract consumers. Johnson’s baby products are shaped like the delicate frame of a child’s upper body in transparent packaging giving off the idea that it is the purest and mildest product meant for babies. Similarly, a famous detergent brand in India, Surf Excel, produces liquid detergent shaped to resemble a female figure attaching the idea of a caring female figure – perhaps a mother – to the product making it an instant success.


Packaging design is incomplete without captivating graphics. The logo, color and design of the label, and message is important for the financial success of a product. The logo has to be designed keeping in mind the expectations of buyers.

Taking the male beauty industry as an example, men usually shy away from using beauty products since they associate the idea to be feminine. The second a product makes a man feel emasculated, it fails. In the past, male product designers had to associate the product to health rather than beauty. But with cultural changes that increasingly blend male and female ideals, more men are accepting beauty products. In addition, men do not invest as much time as women in skincare and use skincare products for instant gratification. For this reason, the male beauty industry uses colors such as black, silver, brown and gray to resonate masculinity, vigor, strength and domination. The icy graphics on most deodorants, soaps, and cleansers are meant to express the instant relief granted by the product.

Paperboat is an excellent example of how graphics can instantly make a product successful. Paperboat became an instant hit in the Indian market because of the skillful nostalgia psychology used by designers. Buyers are instantly reminded of the scorching heat of summer holidays and ethnic drinks prepared by their mother in Indian households in summers. The child-like graphics in catchy colors on a white background evoke a sense of nostalgic childhood days and stand out on the shelves in a supermarket.


Many consumer industries are focussed on the new millenial generation – a generation that is known to have unrealistic positive ideals which they keep chasing, keeping them busy. Keeping the busy millenials in mind, most brands have switched to functional packaging design. Johnson’s baby oil ditched its classic baby-like packaging shape to a droplet with a pump on top. The previous design was slippery in bathrooms making it cumbersome to use. The new design featuring a pump makes the product easy to use while saving time.
In India, the customer’s perception of quality of a product is directly influenced by its packaging. Any product will appear more appealing if its packaging design is functional and has storage benefits.


The physical experience of product packaging adds to the sensory appeal of a product. Supermarkets give the opporunity to feel a product, appealing to the tactile side of a person. Women will be more attracted to softer textures while men will surrender to sturdy and solid packaging. Female products such as makeup and beauty products are packaged in smooth, matte and sleek material. In contrast, men’s personal hygiene brand Axe packages its products in solid bottles with rough lid edges to make it appealing to the male demographic.

The impact, resilience, and growth of responsible packaging in a wide region are daily chronicled by Packaging South Asia.

A multi-channel B2B publication and digital platform such as Packaging South always aware of the prospect of new beginnings and renewal. Its 16-year-old print monthly, based in New Delhi, India has demonstrated its commitment to progress and growth. The Indian and Asian packaging industries have shown resilience in the face of ongoing challenges over the past three years.

As we present our publishing plan for 2023, India’s real GDP growth for the financial year ending 31 March 2023 will reach 6.3%. Packaging industry growth has exceeded GDP growth even when allowing for inflation in the past three years.

The capacity for flexible film manufacturing in India increased by 33% over the past three years. With orders in place, we expect another 33% capacity addition from 2023 to 2025. Capacities in monocartons, corrugation, aseptic liquid packaging, and labels have grown similarly. The numbers are positive for most of the economies in the region – our platform increasingly reaches and influences these.

Even given the disruptions of supply chains, raw material prices, and the challenge of responsible and sustainable packaging, packaging in all its creative forms and purposes has significant headroom to grow in India and Asia. Our context and coverage engulf the entire packaging supply chain – from concept to shelf and further – to waste collection and recycling. We target brand owners, product managers, raw material suppliers, packaging designers and converters, and recyclers.

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Correspondent. Akanksha Meena is striving to learn to write and the fundamentals of publishing with every opportunity with hopes of being able to write something worth publishing someday. She works as a correspondent with Indian Printer and Publisher and Packaging South Asia. In her free time, she can be found pursuing her other interests such as reading, writing, sketching, and painting.



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