How to Appeal to System 1 Decision-Making

Going shopping isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea. We are exposed to thousands of products in a single trip and more often than not, many of us are mission focused looking to stock up on our essentials, casually picking up whatever grabs our eyes first. We tend to head down the path that requires the least amount of effort to decide what to buy. Simply put, our brains aren’t the best at truly multi-tasking. While many of us are distracted and thinking about, what feels like, a million things at once, we rely on decision-making shortcuts – known as cognitive heuristics – to solve the easier tasks for us. A lot of times, we default to what we already know and love.

So why does the everyday consumer often make these quick, automatic decisions at the shelf (including both digital and brick and mortar)? Well, this is due to System 1 Thinking. Popularized by Dr. Daniel Kahneman, System 1 refers to the instinctive side of how we absorb the world around us and make decisions with little exertion on our mind. System 1 thinking dives into our nonconscious processes and produces an intuitive, visceral response. Research tells us that up to 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously. We do not always logically think our way to most decisions – we simply act upon them. Humans are inclined to rely on intuitive thinking, and that is why many decisions at the shelf are made impulsively.

Successful packs tap into rational decision-making as well as automatic responses. One way to do so is to make copy on packaging clear and intuitive by focusing on end-benefit claims rather than bold statements, using jargon that may not resonate with everyday shoppers. Effective packaging tells consumers, in the simplest way possible, why they should buy the product they are looking at. Packs should also eliminate unnecessary clutter so they will not distract the mind with needless elements. Behavioral neuroscience explains that the brain tends to focus on important elements, and therefore packaging needs to be crafted in such a way to make it extremely easy for shoppers to pick up a product and decide to buy it without much thought.

In our complimentary Revised Edition e-book, “The Power of Packaging to Drive Shopper Growth”, we discuss multiple instances of brands utilizing color and imagery to convey benefits in addition to other product claims. In chapter 2, we reference Georgia-Pacific’s Quilted Northern® brand and their use of light natural colors in addition to a forest-based imagery to convey their message of eco-friendly and sustainability.

In chapter 6, we dig deeper into how the consumer must recognize the product or brand in order to even consider them. Shoppers spend less than five seconds with a product at shelf and are only processing a maximum of 3-4 elements on the pack. Prego® embraced the pack simplicity in the sauce category by utilizing large, centrally located brand name copy for easy identification, along with including imagery that speaks to their ingredients and flavor for a quick understanding of the product. This type of packaging bodes well for the System 1 thinking shopper.

To learn more about how to succeed at the shelf, download our complimentary e-book “The Power of Packaging to Drive Shopper Growth” or contact us today!


Nicole DeSimone is an Insights Analyst at Behaviorally based in New York City. With a background in behavioral neuroscience and psychology, she loves delving into the “why” behind shopper behavior. She especially has an interest in how shoppers make decisions for their health and wellbeing. Outside of the office you’ll find her listening to a true crime podcast or spending time with her friends and family (and her cat, Nitrogen!).

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Melissa Villafana is an Insights Associate at Behaviorally based in New York City. Her expertise lies in connecting psychology and behavioral neuroscience to the consumer insights space. Lover of the human brain – you can ask her for fun facts that are sure to spark your curiosity of the brain! During spare time, you can find her spending time with family and friends, exercising, or working on a new painting.

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