The Stories Packages Tell, A Typology of Product Stories Told on Grocery Product Packages: An Abstract
On an average trip to the supermarket, a consumer is exposed to more than 20,000 products, usually in less than 30 min. The modern supermarket is a self-service shopping experience, and packaging plays a critical role in influencing consumers at the point of sale. The product package, now, at once plays the role of the merchant, shopkeeper, and sales agent; the product package is now the storyteller for the brand. Most research into product packages focuses on the psychology of visual package design and consumer perceptions of what the product contained within the package will be like based on the visual stimulus of the package. But product packages are not one-sided, so this study instead focuses on the branded text on product packages. Package stories are narrative texts found on consumer packaged goods that serve as marketing communications tools, beyond labeling requirements. Beyond indirectly alluding to the importance of stories for packaged branded goods, marketing theory offers no frameworks or archetypes for the strategic understanding of brand stories. Thus, a simple research question “What types of stories to packages tell?” has no readily available answer. As such, this research took to an exploratory investigation of the brand stories as told on product packages, with the goal of uncovering a typology of package stories. A grounded content analysis was conducted on the package stories on more than 300 product packages, representing 19 different product categories in the FMCG sector. A two-level typology of storylines was created. It was found that all package stories first orient toward one of three time horizons: the past, the present, or the future. Within each of these temporal orientations lie a number of key plot foci, and it is proposed that there are ultimately 15 such archetypal plotlines across the three orientations. Each of these archetypes ultimately articulates what, at the core, the brand story is about. The first implication of this research is that product package and brand stories follow patterns, and understanding stories as formulaic constructions implies that brand stories can be managerially engineered for strategic purposes. Additionally, this research also suggests that certain stories become more prominent for certain product categories than others. The second implication, thus, is that the brand story be considered as a product attribute that can be engineered as a tool for competitive positioning.