The art of instinct

Effective use of sentic triggers can influence buyer behaviour in ways that traditional design methods can’t, explains Simon Preece at Elmwood.

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Simon Preece

From morning to night, we’re bombarded with marketing messages on the TV, the internet, in the supermarket – everywhere. For the sake of sanity, our brains have become skilled at screening out most of this information. A marketer’s challenge is to bypass that filter process and create messages that resonate with busy consumers.

In supermarkets, there are anywhere between 25,000 and 35,000 products. Consumers generally stick to a repertoire of 75 to 100 items, which makes it tough for new products to break into the shopping trolley.

This challenge is magnified in the world of fast moving consumer goods, particularly in categories of low consumer interest. Things like toilet paper and butter are bought on autopilot in three seconds or less. Consumers don’t waste their time browsing – they make a functional selection and perhaps a basic price comparison. So how can brands in this arena make a meaningful connection in such a short space of time?

Traditionally we use tools like a distinctive colour, physical shape, tone of voice or typographical style to gain instant recognition with consumers.

But how else can we expand a designer’s creative toolbox? At Elmwood we believe that great aesthetic design is a given, but part of the answer lies in the effective use of sentic triggers – sensory cues that affect our subconscious.

The rebranded Anchor

The sensory science

Evolution has equipped us with instincts to keep us safe from harm. Think of the fight or flight response: when faced with danger our adrenaline kicks in automatically. Similarly, sentic triggers generate emotion and action without using the conscious part of our brains. To see how they work look at image 2. What do you see?

If you see any kind of relationship between the two blobs, be it protective, caring or love, you have just experienced a sentic trigger. Your mind has instinctively decoded the image to find meaning that isn’t necessarily there.

Nature is full of sentic triggers – common types are cusps and curves. Cusp shapes get our attention by signalling fear and caution.

You don’t need to be told that a thorn is sharp or a shark fin means get out of the water – it’s instinctive. On the other hand, there’s nothing threatening about a peach. Curves suggest softness, comfort and safety. The physical structure of something can also communicate meaning. Instinctively you know when looking at a sports car and a big 4×4 which one is fast and expensive and which one is the strong workhorse.

Eyes also trigger strong reactions – when someone looks at you, you look back at them to understand why. In nature, animals look at each other for one of four reasons: they want to fight, feed, are fearful or want to mate. Interesting stuff, especially when you start applying sentic triggers to brand design.

The famous Andrex puppy was key to re-engagement

Softness and strength

We used sentic triggers to engage consumers and help revitalise the Andrex toilet paper brand (3). Andrex is the UK’s number one non-food grocery brand but sales volumes had been declining for six years. Consumers didn’t understand why they should pay more for the brand – after all, it’s only toilet paper. Andrex needed to stand out as the brand leader, justify its price premium and emotionally re-engage with consumers – all in a category that takes three seconds to shop.

The design work uses cusps to draw attention to the brand mark, making it stand out as the first thing you see on pack. Andrex’s core brand proposition is “soft, strong and long”, so curves in the typography and product window shape and a soothing colour vignette help emphasise this softness.

The design and substrate accentuate the pack’s natural chunky, pillowy shape to suggest both softness and strength. The matte white ink used doesn’t reflect the harsh glare of store lights, which makes it stand out better and it actually feels softer in your hands, so consumers experience the brand proposition both physically and psychologically.

The famous Andrex puppy was the key tool to emotionally re-engaging consumers. Using its eyes draw attention to it and the design focuses on the puppy’s face. Photographed from above makes him look vulnerable and in need of love and care. The puppy directly engages with the consumer, his chin resting on the shelf edge, making an emotional “buy me, take me home” plea to every passing person.

The design challenged the visual rules of the category, bringing calm to an aisle fraught with the agitation of promotional messages and different products. The pack stands out with its simple and easy to understand structure. Commercial results show that the sentic triggers are working. In the year since the launch, six years of volume decline has been reversed with significant sales increases in both volume and value, along with a +32 per cent improvement in the brand bonding measures. So a lot more people love the brand and emotionally engage with it, which all adds up to a record performance for Andrex in 2012.

A sentic trigger can be created by two simple black blobs

The centre of attention

It’s human nature to notice anything that’s different or unexpected in our world. Designers can use this to a brand’s advantage by creating a visual distraction that contrasts the surroundings on shelf in a noticeable way.

We used this principle in our own brand of strong tea, Make Mine a Builders. Using nature’s warning colours of black and yellow (think wasps and bees), the packaging uses triggers to grab consumers’ attention at the shelf. On a literal level, the colours also echo the visual language of the UK’s construction industry. The results speak for themselves: 20 million cups sold in its first year without any above-the-line marketing support.

The sentic triggers of calm and agitation were considered to revive the classic butter brand, Anchor (1). The brand was under pressure, in a low interest category, with sales volumes declining and it was reliant on promotional deals. The rebranded Anchor contrasted the busy and agitated fixture with a simple, calm and iconic pack. The warm colours and striking brand mark created a contemporary classic that stood out from other butter brands. The design’s warmth and nostalgic look made consumers feel as if they’d always known it – even though everything about the packaging had changed!

Consumers were instinctively reassured by the design, and this instant emotional engagement led to Anchor outselling its nearest competitor for the first time in two-and-a-half years. In the first 12 weeks following launch, sales volume was up +39 per cent against a market declining at -2.7 per cent – all this before any above-the-line support kicked in.

A deeper understanding of how consumers’ minds work gives crucial insight on how we can impact shopping behaviour. Sentic triggers are powerful and interesting tools for designers to use. Because in these busy times, getting a message to cut through and resonate with consumers is more crucial than ever for commercial success.

Simon Preece

Ghyll Royd
Guiseley, Leeds
LS20 9LT

T 01943 870229




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