How Companies Trick You into Thinking You’re Buying a Premium Product

It's all about the packaging

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Scott Eells / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Snapple bottles in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

Even as middle class consumers are tightening their budgets, companies are finding ways to tout “everyday luxury” products—from food to shampoo—that cost 30-50 percent more. The trick: packaging.

When it comes to overall satisfaction with a product, consumers rank packaging almost equal to brand, according to new a satisfaction study conducted by MWV, a global packaging company. Packaging plays a major role in “nonconscious priming,” or the sensory factors that customers consider when evaluating how premium a product is, according to the study. In another study from the University of Miami, researchers found that the attractiveness of a product (measured by time customers spent looking at a product) was as important as personal preference for the brand.

Consumers can be tricked into thinking a product is high end by visual cues like muted colors, matte finishes and crafted-looking materials: chips packaged in a matte finished bag rather than a bright, glossy one seem artisan. Shoppers also are drawn to functional and sturdy looking products, ones that can maintain freshness, are easily portable and easy to open.

Even sound can convey luxury. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “The small sounds consumer products make—whether a snap, click, rustle or pop—can be memorable and deeply satisfying, often suggesting luxury, freshness, effectiveness or security.” Take, for instance the perfect Snapple bottle “pop” when you twist the cap off or the pleasing low hum of a high-end vacuum cleaner.

And then of course, there’s touch. Softer is better (think, cashmere), according to the study. And so is smooth and silky when it comes to lotions or conditioners.

Thanks to such packaging, a new group of consumers is splurging in small ways by purchasing thicker paper towels or pomegranate juice instead of orange juice accorfing to the report. It’s called the “democratization of luxury,” according to research firm Mintel, and it’s subtly stealing pennies from your pocket.