Can't Buy Happiness?

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Less Is More: The Power of Simple Language

Less really is more when it comes to advertising.

Take a cursory glance at the history of language in advertising and you’ll notice one thing: simplicity rules the day. Whether that’s the number of images used or the exact wording of an advertisement, less is very often more. Just take a look at some of the world’s most famous slogans: Just do itI’m lovin’ itAlways Coca-Cola — the list goes on. In fact, the campaign ‘Got Milk?’ is often voted as the most effective ad campaign of all time — and that’s just two words. Less really is more when it comes to advertising — and the same goes for packaging — so let’s take a more in-depth look at how using simple language can make products irresistible to a consumer.

Who’s already doing it?

We’ve established that using clear and simple words in packaging can boost its effectiveness, but which brands have already discovered and established this themselves? Well, one such example is an American favorite: Planters nuts. In one of their latest launches, Planters Almonds, they’ve gone for a very typographic approach. By letting the copy do the talking, it’s immediately clear to the customer exactly what they are getting. The clear-as-day ‘ALMONDS’ is eye-catching from the supermarket shelves, and once the customer is hooked, they can move closer to find out those smaller details — flavors and so on — which are also listed on the packaging, just a touch smaller. There are plenty more examples of using simple and clear words to convey meaning, for example Ikea’s food range — from a brand that’s made its name on its straight talking, down the line, advertising and commercials.

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Why is it effective?

As we’ve seen, the type of packaging that most frequently benefits from this clear and simple use of language is food and consumables. The reason? People make decisions about those items much faster than they do for other, higher priced items. For example, if you were looking into buying a new car and the brochure simply said ‘The new Ford Focus’, you’d probably have a few questions to ask! You’d want to know about fuel economy, added extras, mileage, whether or not it comes with warranty insurance, and so on. And speaking of insurance companies, let’s not forget that financial institutions like insurers often choose to use clear and simple language too. Companies that provide services such as insurance for cars or other financial products often offer services that are difficult for some people to fully understand — especially in an advert or pamphlet. Consumers need to be offered an immediate answer, whether that’s the cheapest car insurance or the best savings rates. That’s why simple, clear and focussed wording can make all the difference for insurers and banks.

What type of products are best-suited to this style?

It’s clear now that with food packaging, there’s a lot more flexibility open to packaging designers — and the best of them understand that people see a product and make a decision in a second or two. The clearer the messaging, the easier it is for the consumer to make the decision. That’s why we’re seeing more and more retailers offering their own brand goods in simple designs — people don’t want to have to pick up a can of peas to find out what’s in them. They just want a can of peas. By creating packaging that addresses that demand quickly, the brand are taking the hard work out of winning that customer. In fact, it’s not just a recent development — look back to the 1960s and you’ll see that British supermarket Sainsbury’s had some unique ideas with their graphic design. Clear headlines, simple graphics, punchy wording — and that was almost fifty years ago! Great design really is timeless, especially in packaging.

So what have we learned from all of this? Well, the lesson should be clear: for FMCG products like supermarket goods, drinks, and other ‘quick’ purchases, less is very often more. And even highly complex products like those from banks and insurers can benefit from keeping it simple. The reality is that consumers often want have simple aims: buy a can of beans, open a savings account, and so on. By directly addressing these desires through simple words on packaging, companies can make a lasting impact and boost their sales figures at the same time.

Beyond The Purchase is a website dedicated to understanding the psychology behind spending decisions and the relationship between money and happiness. We study how factors like your values and personality interact with spending decisions to affect your happiness. At Beyond The Purchase you can take quizzes that help you understand what motivates your spending decisions, and you’ll get personalized feedback and tips. For example:

How do you score on the five fundamental dimensions of personality? Take our Big Five personality test and find out.

How do you feel about your past, present, and future? Take the Time Attitudes Survey and learn about your relation with time.

How happy are your Facebook updates? We can analyze your last 25 Facebook status updates and determine how happy you have been.

How happy is your subconscious? Take our Happiness IAT and find out.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness. To read more about the connection between money and happiness, go to the Beyond the Purchase blog.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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