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Consumer Preference for Certain Products Presents Double-Edged Sword for Manufacturers

Apparently "what's on the inside" doesn't really count, at least when it comes to product choice. A recent study from a team of market researchers found that when it comes to consumer choice, packaging makes a big difference in the perceived effectiveness of a product.

"The double-edged sword comes in when we find that that sort of inference leads to greater tendency to purchase the product, but on the back side, people tend to use less of it, so it takes longer to go through the product and come back to the market to repeat purchase," said Jeffrey Inman, Albert Wesley Frey, Professor of Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, and a member of the research team.

The study showed consumers products with different packaging, like bug repellent with one bottle showing a dead insect, and the other showing a live insect. Test subjects were more likely to infer that the product with the dead bug on it worked better, but then they'd use less of it, because they thought it would be more effective in smaller doses.

"In many cases this is not a valid inference. Sometimes that will matter, sometimes it won't. In the context of pharmaceuticals, if there's something about the product that makes it seem more effective, it may lead to a lack of compliance with the level of dosage," said Inman.

Inman said that for consumers, this study highlights the need to pay more attention to actual product rather than packaging. For manufacturers, it means that they may want to think twice about how certain products are packaged.

The study also included researchers at Johns Hopkins and Brigham Young Universities. The article, "The Double-Edged Sword of Signaling Effectiveness," will be published in the February 2012 print edition of the Journal of Marketing Research.