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EMAC 2021 Annual Conference

Mere Packaging and Product Value: Psychological Benefits of Unnecessary Packaging

Published: May 25, 2021


Tim Doering, University of Michigan; Katherine Burson, University of Michigan; Andrew Gershoff, University of Texas at Austin


Packaging is a major waste contributor. This research explores the psychological benefits of seemingly unnecessary packaging. We find that packaging can offer psychological benefits even if consumers believe that a product does not need to be packaged. We use the term mere packaging for packaging that is simple transparent plastic packaging without any additional product or brand information and that is seen as unnecessary for a given product. In consumers’ minds, products consist of their physical parts and an intangible “essence” that goes beyond their physical matter. We show that mere packaging can preserve a product’s inherent intangible essence. Pilot participants identified ten products that do not need packaging. In five experiments, we find a preference for merely packaged products (studies 1a and 1b), that essential physical qualities are lost via unpackaging (studies 2 and 3), and that packaging can increase purchase intention through higher intangible product value (study 4).