It sounds like science fiction, but the best way to know whether or not consumers find brand packaging appealing may be to look into their eyes. It turns out that consumer brand companies like Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson are doing just that.
Testing new brand packaging or a new product with consumers has always been a high-risk proposition. Focus groups, surveys, and other traditional consumer research techniques offer some insight, but they are hardly definitive.
Companies with millions of dollars invested in brands want a more accurate assessment of whether or not a product will resonate with a consumer.
Christian Simms, associate director of consumer market knowledge for P&G's Herbal Essences and Pantene brands, tells Packaging World, "What consumers say and what they react to is a very different thing than what they spontaneously react to. We're interested in what they can tell us without saying it to us."
That's why P&G uses eye tracking research for answers. Eye tracking is not a new science. It has been used for over twenty years in the military and for medical applications. In recent years, the science of eye tracking has been applied to the online world, helping marketers understand what website visitors look at first on a web page and how long they focus on certain page elements.
In a typical eye tracking experiment (see one demo, above), an individual consumer is shown, for example, 6-foot wide store shelves on a screen. The consumer views the shelf categories in this simulated shopping environment. Using a joystick, the consumer moves from one category to another. While she's doing so, her eye movements are being recorded at 60 readings per second.
The collected data is used to create a heat map of fixation readings; the more intense the color in the heat map, the higher the number of viewing fixations. The data is also analyzed so that the marketer knows the percentage of consumers who "actively fixated" on each product or brand on a shelf.
Scott Young, president of Perception Research Services, a market research firm that employs eye tracking, says clients like this large-screen approach. He tells Packaging World, "To accurately measure shelf visibility, we've found that you really need to show product categories nearly life size. That's why we project the categories at 6 feet wide, and it also corresponds to a shopper's actual field of vision at the shelf."
Pamela Waldron, global director of Oral Care for Johnson & Johnson, says the company uses eye tracking "frequently to assess new label design for major brands. We could not implement a graphic label design change without understanding its impact on visibility and imagery."
P&G has used eye tracking research for six years to validate new packaging designs and to study areas of a product package that are most visible to consumers. Christian Simms says that "eye tracking gives us a complete sense of who's seeing what. We want them to leave the store with the right product." Eye tracking research was used when the company introduced new label graphics for Herbal Essences. It also led to a change in European packaging for Pantene Aqua Light conditioner. "We used a light blue pack, and no one saw it on shelf," says Simms.
Eye tracking can go even further — right into the store, in fact — with the use of special glasses connected to a recorder that the consumer takes along on a shopping trip. The glasses include a tiny camera and a sensor which, using infrared light, maps eye-tracing data to individual packages. A microphone can record the shopper's comments as well.
P&G and Johnson & Johnson are enthusiastic about the results they've seen from eye tracking.
Waldron of Johnson & Johnson reports that the company has "uncovered weaknesses versus competitors that we didn't know existed." P&G's Simms adds, "With eye tracking, you can determine if you are stopping consumers with your product."
Still, not everyone's convinced by such techniques. Your thoughts?