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What You See Is What You "Think" You Get

Last updated on May 25, 2020

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell writes about “Sensation Transference.” He describes what a beer manufacturer realized when they tried to figure out why their competitor’s beer was always doing better in the market, in spite of their beer being of good quality, having good advertisements, and having been priced competively. After a series of marketing experiments, they are convinced that beer drinkers liked the taste of their beer but the “packaging” — the bottle, the label, etc. — of their competitor. By redesigning their bottle and putting on a new label, they come back strongly and gain a significant market share.

Another example Gladwell talks about is how 7-Up drinkers complained that the drink had become too “lemony” when the 7-Up company merely added some more “yellow” to the color of the can, with no changes to the drink whatsoever!

The idea of sensation transference is that when you look at a product, you form an opinion. And that opinion affects how you perceive the product when you use it. In the case of beer and other drinks, it is the color of the can, or the shape of the bottle, the label, etc.

When I was reading this, I remembered my own thoughts about how things are packaged to influence your choice when you see them on the shelf in a store.

Have you ever wondered why some of the software you buy — Turbo Tax, Norton AntiVirus, and stuff like that — comes in such big boxes? Most of the software these days comes on a single CD, with a small booklet, and a product registration card. But the box in which these are packaged is typically about 20 times or so bigger in volume. It should definitely cost more to tranport, store and display bigger boxes. So why are these software boxes so much bigger than they need to be?

My theory is that bigger boxes make you “feel” that you are buying something more substantial with you money. Carrying a box of Turbo Tax after paying $50 or so feels more satisfying than holding on to a CD in a jacket. It makes you feel that you bought something worth your money.

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