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I recently wrote a piece entitled What a Packaging Makeover Can Do For Your Company — it got me thinking about the issue of branding: what exactly branding is, how branding and marketing interact, and just how important packaging is to the whole process of branding, or perhaps rebranding, one's company, products or services.

In the course of my research I conversed with a number of industry experts about how heavily instrumental packaging is in the development and maintenance of a company's brand. All seemed to unanimously agree that packaging is intrinsic to the success of a brand. "Packaging is the number one medium to communicate the brand. "You need to pay attention to this area in your branding strategy because it is the first thing someone sees, touches, and essentially buys. Packaging is often more than a medium — it can be part of the product," stresses Laurent Hainaut, founder of design agency Raison Pure.

While I was convinced, impressed even, by their assertions on how important packaging is for a brand, a study I came across this morning impressed me even further.

Funded by Stanford and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the study that appears in August's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, asked 63 low-income children, ages 3 to 5, to taste identical McDonald's foods that were in marked (name-branded) and unmarked wrappers.


The results? The food in the unmarked packaging was always pronounced less tasty than the food in McDonald's branded packaging, even thought the two foods were identical.

About 77 percent of the children said that the McDonalds labeled fries tasted better than the plain wrapped fries and 54 percent expressed a preference for McDonald's-wrapped carrots – well over double the percentage of those who liked the unmarked sample. The results weren’t all that striking with regard to hamburgers however, with only 7 more kids choosing McDonald's-wrapped burgers than the unmarked ones.
An author of the study, Dr. Tom Robinson opined that the children's perceptions about the food were "physically altered by the branding."

While thoughts about the kinds of ethical responsibilities this places on advertisers and chains like McDonalds or Burger King definitely flashed through my mind, I'm more intrigued by the sheer extent of the impact that such marketing strategies have on us all, even children who may be too young to read.