BP0812_SenticTriggers_Img2_InBody.jpgFrom morning to night, we’re bombarded with marketing messages: on TV, on the Internet, in the grocery store — everywhere. Because of this, our brains have become skilled at screening out most of this information. As a result, a marketer’s challenge is to bypass the filter process and create messages that resonate with busy consumers.

In supermarkets, there are anywhere between 25,000 to 35,000 products. Consumers typically purchase a repertoire of 75 to 100 items, which makes it challenging for new products to break into the shopping cart. And this challenge is magnified in the world of consumer packaged goods, particularly in categories of low consumer interest. Items like toilet paper, cleaning products and butter are bought on autopilot in three seconds or less. Consumers don’t waste their time browsing. Instead, they make a functional selection and, perhaps, a basic price comparison.

So how can brands in this arena make a meaningful connection in such a short space of time? And how can designers quickly get consumers’ attention? Brand consultancy firm Elmwood believes that part of the answer lies in the effective use of sentic triggers — sensory cues that affect our subconscious.


The sensory science

Humans are equipped with instincts to keep us safe from harm. When faced with danger, our adrenaline kicks in automatically. Similarly, sentic triggers unconsciously generate emotion and action. To see how it works, look at the image below. What do you see?

If you see any kind of relationship between the two blobs — be it protective, caring or loving — you have just experienced a sentic trigger. Your mind has instinctively decoded the image to find meaning that isn’t necessarily there.

Nature is full of sentic triggers; one common type is cusps and curves. Cusp shapes, which are sharp curves, get our attention by signaling fear and caution. For example, you don’t need to be told that a thorn is sharp or a shark fin means get out of the water — it’s instinctive. On the other hand, there’s nothing threatening about a peach. Curves suggest softness, comfort and safety.

Eyes also act as strong sentic triggers for consumers. When someone looks at you, it triggers an instinctive reaction to look back in order to understand why they are staring. Similarly, in nature, animals look at each other for one of four reasons: They want to fight; they want to feed; they fear; or they want to mate. Therefore, eyes can be used as a tool to get our attention and engage consumers at a very primary level.


Designed for softness and strength

Elmwood used sentic triggers to engage consumers and help revitalize the Andrex toilet paper brand. Andrex is the UK’s number one non-food grocery brand, but sales volume had been declining for six years. Consumers didn’t understand why they should pay more for the brand. Because of this, Andrex needed to stand out as the brand leader, justify its price premium and emotionally re-engage with consumers — all in a category that takes three seconds to shop.

As a result, Andrex underwent a drastic redesign. The design team used cusps to draw attention to the brand mark — making it stand out as the first thing seen on pack. Andrex’s core brand proposition is “soft, strong and very long,” so designers emphasized Andrex’s softness by adding a soothing color vignette and curves in the typography and product window.

The updated design and substrate also accentuate the pack’s natural chunky, pillow-y shape and suggest both softness and strength. The matte white ink doesn’t reflect the harsh glare of store lights, and actually feels softer in consumers’ hands, so they experience the brand proposition both physically and psychologically.

Additionally, the famous Andrex puppy was the key tool to emotionally re-engage consumers. Since eyes draw attention, the design focuses on the puppy’s face. He was shot from above, which makes him look vulnerable and in need of care. With his head tilted at a disarming angle, the puppy directly engages with the viewer. His chin appears to rest on the shelf edge, making an emotional “buy me; take me home” plea to every passing consumer.

The redesign challenged the visual rules of the category, bringing calm to an aisle fraught with the agitation of promotional messages and different products. The iconic design stands out with its simple and easy to understand pack. Commercial results show that the sentic triggers are working. In the year since the relaunch, sales of the core pack increased by 4 percent — reversing the six years of volume decline — and the premium added benefit range was up 17 percent, with a 28 percent improvement in the brand bonding measure and 380,000 new Facebook fans, making 2011 a record revenue year for Andrex.