Keep it simple and you won’t be stupid.

One of the top challenges in packaging design is that everyone—from sales to R&D to marketing to the CEO—will want his or her pet word, phrase, or image to prominently adorn the product’s principal display panel (PDP).

Which brings us to a physical reality of packaging design: The principal display panel can’t possibly communicate everything about the product at hand. There’s not much space and you want to maximize every square inch. It only takes 3 seconds to make a buying decision when consumers encounter a product package. Additionally, consumers are known to spend no more that 10 seconds in most grocery category section. Typically, they fail to see and consider over 33 percent of the brands within that category. * Consumers may spend a lot of time looking at a package because it is either wonderfully compelling or totally confusing.

Studies show that there are typically five stages of consumer behavior:

1. Problem recognition:

The consumer perceives a need, which triggers an idea making a purchase. This can be activated by marketing and advertising messages.

2. Information search:

The consumer seeks value and looks at options for meeting the need. Past experience, brand affinity, referrals from friends and the authorities, and sales people are considered.

3. The Evaluation of alternatives:

The consumer assesses value by analyzing the gathered information. Personal criteria and emotional and rational factors are at play.

4. Purchase decision:

The consumer decides to buy the product based on perceived value. He chooses the place to buy it based on price, availability, terms of sale, retail location, or past experience. He also must choose when to buy it. Alternatively, she simply decides not to buy.

5. Post-purchase behavior:

The consumer finds value in consuming or using the product, product does not address the original need. *

So to break through the clutter and hold attention long enough to implant a message, you need to avoid the kitchen sink approach and allow superfluous imagery and information to flow smoothly down the drain.

How do you determine which features, benefits and/or images to include on the package?

First know that features indicate what’s inside the package—benefits describe why those features are important to the consumer. Consumers want to know what they get out of the product more so than what you put into it.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see that benefit wording and imagery is more relevant—and therefore more persuasive—to the end user.

Too Many Benefits Get You Too Little Attention

Let’s say you’re able to convince the team to agree on the premise of displaying only benefits on your product label. Congratulations, now you need to get them to resist the temptation of displaying every benefit.

Often the manufacturer is excited about all the features and benefits of their product, that they fear that keeping it simple will alienate a particular consumer if they do not include every feature and benefit for everyone.

It’s best to highlight only one or two of the benefits that you want the product to be known for.

As consumers, we are bombarded with so many competing messages every day, that only one or two benefits are pretty much all that we can comprehend while standing in the aisle of a retail store.

Choose only the benefits that align with your overall brand message and customer experience.

They should help your product stand out from the competition and not get buried under too many features and benefits.

Manage the message.

We often say less is more, but when more is unavoidable, create the illusion of less on the PDP of the package. First, wordsmith message solutions that combine like elements where possible to reduce the clutter. The mind can digest simple compound messages when they have common intent. Remember, what matters most on packaging: “Who am I?”, “What makes me special?” and ”Why should you buy me?” **

If space allows, a deeper dive into other benefits the product offers can be spelled out on other panels on the package.

From in-store shelf to virtual shelf.

Maintaining a simple package design is not only good for any cluttered retail environment, but it also has advantages in the e-commerce world as well. The way your packaging looks reinforces the customer’s decision to buy from you and delivers on the promised value you are communicating online.

When your product is displayed at the size of a postage stamp on Amazon, for example, the need for the simple and uncomplicated package design becomes essential. And with ecommerce you have the additional opportunity to list additional attributes and benefits of your product. But even there it’s best to keep it simple because you have the additional support of customer reviews and the third-party opinions of the e-commerce site itself.

A wise old tenet of advertising holds true: Try to communicate everything and you risk communicating nothing. Concentrate on imparting one powerful benefit to the consumer—and let your competition clog their packaging designs with the kitchen sink.

For details on unclogging your packaging design, contact us at: 310-489-8446,, or visit

* Perception Research Services

** Steven DuPuis and John Silva (2008) Package Design Workbook