Does Green Mean Green to You? Exploring the role of packaging design elements in guiding consumer perception

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
International Design Business Management
Packaging design has been actively used as a competitive marketing tool, especially in the context of sustainability marketing. This phenomenon is particularly conspicuous in Finnish milk packaging design. Through specific packaging design elements, companies claim corporate social responsibility and communicate the product’s ecological aspects in an attempt to persuade consumers to join the eco-friendly movement. However, can packaging design elements actually function as an ecological cue for guiding consumer perception? The aim of this thesis was to examine consumer perceptions of ecological cues embedded in packaging design. This study brings a novel approach that examines packaging design elements through the lens of the consumer responsibilization process. Following the exploratory nature of this study, a qualitative study was conducted, comprising of 12 in-depth interviews. The collected data was evaluated through thematic analysis. The interpretation of the themes that emerged from the data analysis was based on a theoretical framework derived from consumer responsibilization theory and packaging design literature. The findings from this study show that consumers can be guided by ecological cues in packaging design through the four phases of the consumer responsibilization process. The latter leads consumers to regard consumption of eco-friendly packaging (and the product within) as a means of fulfilling social responsibility. However, this study found that consumer culture also plays a significant role in constructing meaning around packaging design elements, which influences the consumer responsibilization process. Based on the synthesis of the findings from this study, a conceptual framework was constructed to explain the influence of the consumer responsibilization process and consumer culture on consumer perception of ecological cues in packaging design. The findings suggest that companies can practice more fine-tuned sustainability marketing by being actively involved in guiding consumer perception towards sustainability through packaging design. While this thesis demonstrates the applicability of consumer responsibilization theory in packaging design and consumer research, the theory needs to be explored in different contexts. Moreover, the changing consumer culture should be more investigated in terms of its influence on consumer perception of marketing stimuli.
Thesis advisor
Karjalainen, Toni-Matti
packaging design, consumer perception, consumer responsibilization, consumer culture, sustainability marketing
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