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Packaging Gold

By R. Andrew Hurley, Ph.D.

September 13, 2018

width=300You could argue that gold is the basis of value. It’s an element that has commanded the attention of our species since we first laid eyes on it. We learned something interesting about gold in the 16th century, when Europeans discovered South America and its massive gold deposits. We mined it so fast that it inflated the value of the entire marketplace. Chemists classify gold as a “noble metal.” You could also argue that gold has an impact on our behavior, information processing, perceived value, trust, and confidence in objects that contain the material. When we figured out how to smash gold into microscopically thin sheets, it quickly found its way onto officiating documents, adorning seals, and certifying accomplishments. Gold physically represents many marriages and commitments, and it can be traded for another human’s full attention, money, and time.

So, does gold change the way we behave in a marketplace? A U.S. retail supercenter contains more than 140,000 packaged products—an incredible battle­ground of products fighting to attract and retain shopper attention. When applied to consumer packaged goods, does the inclusion of gold influence our attention and decision-making? Do we find products with gold accents faster, look at them longer, and associate them with a higher value compared to identical products without gold?

With the generous support of API, my graduate and undergraduate students prepared a social experiment to test the impact of gold on packaging. To answer these questions, we developed an experimental design that leverages eye-tracking glasses to collect attention data at 50 times per second while shoppers make selections in a retail grocery store. Shoppers are recruited, screened, and segmented into groups in which they have the opportunity to view packaging that contains either gold foil accents or a close gold color print match. The attention data across the groups will be analyzed to see whether the gold foil influences shopper behavior.

First, a new brand, Higher Manna, was developed to remove any potential brand bias during the retail experiment. Students formulated real food products in a commercial kitchen. Three mushroom-​based products were developed: lip balm, a chocolate sampler, and infused water. The resulting food products won an award in a student competition, CAFLS Cultivate, through Clemson University’s Creative Inquiry program.

Next, API extended an incredible opportunity to our team: They provided our physical package designs as if they just came off a well-tuned printer with absolutely luxurious gold foil. They also created the second sample set—identical designs without the foil, but a close print color match to gold. With production samples in hand, the research team extended our social experiment to an online marketplace, adjusting the method to explore gold’s impact in e-commerce. We took pictures of the pack and created an simulation on a computer, where shoppers will see a digital representation of the two packs—one with gold accent and the close gold print color match.

With a full, in-context competitive retail planogram and e-commerce pages built, our team is ready to start the experiment. But first, I want to know your thoughts: Do you think gold will influence shopper behavior? Take the short survey at to let me know your answer. By participating, I’ll make sure you are one of the first to know our final results!

I have to thank API again for allowing this experiment to be possible. Their gift to my research program allows my students and me to explore ideas and curiosities while providing a highly differentiated classroom experience—allowing students to interact and network with industry professionals. I feel the best way to unveil innovations and develop competitive advantages is to stay in student mode—always testing, always learning to advance our industry.

Do you have a research question that needs an answer? Send a note.

width=150Andrew Hurley, Ph.D., is an associate professor of packaging science at Clemson University. He can be reached at