Brands On The Brain

Stuart Pritchard November 13, 2017




Looking at the positive psychological effects of well-positioned branding, we hear from Protos Packaging Limited’s NICKY FUSSELL…

In the current environment of hostility directed at plastic packaging, an associate in the flexible packaging industry put his head above the parapet and asserted that plastic is God’s gift to mankind. While the environmentally aware may baulk at such a comment, as far as I can see, the only questionable element was to attribute the creation of the first synthetic polymer to a deity rather than the Belgian chemist and serial inventor, Leo Baekeland. The sentiment captured in this bold claim was essentially sound.

Which brings me to my own similarly bold but justifiable claim about packaging, which is that in our consumeristic society, packaging helps us to meet our fundamental psychological needs. Allow me to convince you of my rationale…


A primary function of packaging is the enablement of branding and, at the surface level, branding on packaging helps us negotiate a

Plastic packaging is perhaps not the villain it is made out to be

complex retail environment. A walk down the aisle is not an easy one – with the average UK supermarket stocking 45,000 products and a typical weekly shop comprising around 50 items in 50-minutes, our brains must weigh up approximately 900 items a minute! To make such lightning decisions, our brains must take mental shortcuts by extracting certain cues from the environment to guide our buying decisions.

The mental processes that are triggered by brand recognition and prime our memories and our emotional reaction to it take place at lightning speed, below the level of conscious awareness. The power of branding lies in the fact that we are frequently not aware of the cues we have used to arrive at our decision. The capacity for sub-conscious processes to influence our buying behaviour inevitably leads to suggestions that branding made possible by packaging is sinister since it leaves us open to manipulation by profit-hungry big.

At a deeper level, however, branding on packaging plays a far more important role in our lives than simply being a way of differentiating products on the supermarket shelf. Indeed, the utility of branding does not stop with the benefits of the product. Even in the absence of any functional benefits of a branded product compared with an unbranded one, research shows that we derive psychological benefits from a positive brand experience. From a survey of 20,000 consumers across 12 countries, it was found that engaging with a trusted brand is associated with feelings of satisfaction, being reassured and safe and made to feel important.


To satisfy our need to feel good about ourselves, we choose brands that communicate personality traits we identify with or wish to

A little creativity can go a long way

emulate, whether that’s a liberal thinker, a good parent, young and trendy, rich and sexy, etc. For example, Apple’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”

campaign portrayed a young casually dressed dude (the Mac) consistently outsmarting a staid, conservatively-dressed man (A N Other computer brand), the inference being that having a Mac means you are tech-savvy, hip and smart. By buying a certain brand we also join other people like us, we connect with others who buy the same product.

There is one important caveat in all of this, however, and that is brands have to deliver what they say on the metaphorical tin before they can evoke that warm fuzzy feeling and influence our behaviour. Brands must offer Competence in what they do and Convenience in how they offer it before they can aspire to Connection with the consumer (the three Cs)6. Just take a look at the backlash from consumers against the attempt of certain major supermarkets to hoodwink us by using branded packaging with fictitious farm names. The false portrayal of locally farmed, British food – when it simply wasn’t – was a ham-fisted attempt to play on our psychological need for feeling safe and secure.


In sum, packaging provides the means through which we can engage with our favourite and trusted brands in the retail environment. Without packaging our weekly shop would be a mentally exhausting chore of trying to make endless choices from an array of undifferentiated products. But worse than that, it would be an emotional black hole, devoid of any of the positive benefits to be gained from brand engagement that ticks the boxes of our basic psychological needs to feel good about ourselves, connect with others and feel safe. Without the fuzzy warm emotions that come from meeting these needs, the positive boost derived from indulging in a little retail therapy simply wouldn’t exist!

For those among us who just take no pleasure from shopping, maybe there is some comfort in knowing that the experience could be a whole lot bleaker without those polythene bags, metal cans, laminated pouches, glass jars, cardboard boxes and yes, even plastic bottles.