It’s been said that “Good things come in small packages.”
It depends on the package.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what you think is inside of the package is heavily influenced by the package itself.
Your rational, scientific mind may think that’s crazy. After all, there’s a difference between what’s outside and inside. And after all, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf, right?
But we humans are in many ways predictably irrational, and one place that logic fails us is in our inability to separate the contents of a package from what it comes in.
In other words: context trumps content.
A recent example is illustrated in a business article in the NY Times. Seven months ago, Australia instituted new laws around tobacco packaging. What had been your fairly typical packaging has been banned. So instead of reaching for a pack of smokes and seeing this:
You get to see this boxes of cigarettes that look like this:
It’s just a box, right? After all, they both have the same cigarettes inside…so what’s the big deal?
Well, it turns out that smokers are having a hard time with the new packaging. They’re complaining that the cigarettes taste “off”. They’re weird.
The packaging changes our affective cueing. As we see things differently, we believe things differently…and the taste changes.
Smoking isn’t the only thing where context trumps content. Take the world of music. If you walked past a world-famous violinist playing right in front of you on a Stradivarius, one of the best violins in the world, you’d notice, right?
Wrong. Check out this experiment run by the Washington Post and violinist Joshua Bell.
When people are in a certain context (in the metro, on their way to work), the environmental cues are so strong that they drown out the amazing music in front of their feet.
Now that we’ve gone from Viceroys to Violins, let’s shift to Vanilla.
When do you stop eating?
If you’re like most people, you’d say “when I’m full”. But how do you decide when that is? It turns out that there’s a whole host of cues (ranging from the music playing in the room, to the size of your plate, to the rate of how fast your dining partners eat, and more!) that influence your decision to keep eating or stop. (For more info on this, and a great read, see Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating.)
Nothing is at seems to be. It’s all in how it’s packaged.
What content are you packaging? Is that wrapping supporting your messaging? Or blowing smoke signals?