People only read about 10 words on a shopping trip. Why is this?

Words are the last thing we use to locate and evaluate products. We shop using shape, color, and key visuals first because these can be processed by our unconscious mind. Words have the least influence in shopping because they are the only element that require us to consciously process them.

Less is more when it comes to words. Letting the category context and other package elements do most of the heavy lifting will create less confusion and more cohesion.

Less is more.

Often, words are overused to compensate for ineffective design. All brands want simple packages that convey core benefits, but when shape, color, and visuals fail to convey key messaging, words are thrown on like a bandage.

Shoppers can only absorb about three messages in the few seconds they give your product, so it’s important to emphasize the right ones.

There are more than ten individual messages on this product without a meaningful hierarchy. The primary three, in order of emphasis, read:

  1. Go Play
  2. Kashi
  3. 9g of Protein

None of these messages tell us what the product is, why we should want it, or how we will use it. The actual product description and image are afterthoughts to other, less important claims.

Their optimized package enables “GO” to be quickly understood and add meaning. Also, flavor stands out and is easy to navigate, smoothing the friction finding it on the old package.

Use words as reassurance.

Words are best used as complementary to other design elements. They can add another layer of context to an image or help clarify flavor/type/main benefit.

An example of simplicity leading to success comes from Pop Tarts. They don’t waste time and space on claims that don’t matter to shoppers. The hierarchy is clear:

  1. Using their color and logo, you can identify the product.
  2. The visual tells us what it looks like and what flavor it is and if that’s not clear…
  3. The flavor callout makes it obvious.

Yes, there are other messages, but they have identified what messages matter to their core shoppers and made all other messages (e.g. nutritional info, baked in the USA) supplementary.

We know that Pop Tarts have a simple message to deliver in comparison to other products, but the objective for words is still the same. Consumers won’t allocate the time and energy needed to read all the words on your package. The challenge is figuring out how to make the fewest words help the rest of your package be seen, understood, and wanted.

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