Increase packaging effectiveness with mental simulation

If the packaging shows a person using the product, it helps simulate the same experience in people who sees the packaging. This is what we call a mental simulation. The simulation creates a desire in people to also use the product. However, this has to be done right way or it'll end up counterproductive. Continue reading to learn the proper strategy.


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When you think of the packaging of household products, what do you see?

Probably an image of the product being used. This is good, because showing consumers a usage experience can create a desire in them to use the product.

This relates to mental simulation: an unconscious process in the brain where it tries to simulate the experience of others - to mimic what others are feeling. For example, as soon as we see a glass on a table and a hand reaching for it, our brain unconsciously engages in picking up the glass as well.

A good example of mental simulation comes from a study we did for Philips on a packaging for their new iron.

Philips case packaging

After studying both packages with fMRI, we find that the packaging on the right (with a right hand holding the iron) scored better than left. Unconsciously, left-handed simulation activated an aversion in participants. Read the entire Philips case here.

The results can be explained by the fact that 90% of the population is right-handed. Therefore, it's easier for most brains to simulate experience of holding an iron with the right hand than the left. In contrast, simulating a left handed hold unconsciously result to an "error", which is interpreted by the brain as an aversion.

Take a look at these two yogurt bowls and positions of the spoons. Most people (i.e. right-handed people) can more easily simulate the experience of the image on the right than left, because the spoon is easier to grasp in their brain.

Packaging learning 1 - mentale simulatie - moeilijker met linkshandige visuals

Of course, this finding also applies to all images used in marketing and communication. In these images of Coca-Cola, the bottles are held with the 'wrong' hand (with the left). This makes it more difficult for mental simulation to happen.

packaging learning 1 left handed visuals do not work well for mental simulation in the brain

Advice: Make sure that your marketing images promote mental simulation. Keep in mind that 90% of the population is right-handed. Make the desired consumer behaviour easy for consumers to reach.

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