Studying the Response: Foil Attracts Consumer Attention

by Dianna Brodine, managing editor, PostPress

Capturing consumer attention can result in big business, and those involved in print and packaging know that “shiny on the shelf” is an advantage for those looking to stand out in the retail aisles. Thousands of successful product launches can be associated with the use of a high-visibility enhancement, but rarely is solid data available to prove that the use of a specialty print effect increased the likelihood of purchase.

The Foil & Specialty Effects Association (FSEA) recognized that validation of physical and emotional responses to high-visibility enhancements would offer the print finishing industry a tool to support the decision to incorporate high-visibility enhancement within a brand development plan. As technology allows the capture of increasing levels of human response to stimulation, the accumulation of scientific data to validate high-visibility enhancements becomes possible.

The study detailed in this article proves that in a highly competitive category, where consumer personal preference is a significant factor in the purchase decision-making process, the addition of a high-value enhancement to packaging greatly increased the likelihood of purchase. In fact, the unknown brand – created solely for this study – was able to outperform national brands with decades of name recognition.

Study procedures

The Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson University, in partnership with R. Andrew Hurley’s research program, conducted an eye-tracking study in the CUshop Consumer Behavior Lab. The Sonoco Institute was created to exploit the synergies that exist between the graphic communications and packaging science departments at Clemson University. The study was developed in conjunction with the FSEA to observe the effects of foil stamping on consumer interaction and test the hypothesis that a package embellished with foil would increase attention to the product when compared to the same product without foil.

The approximately 180 participants (30 for each control and 30 for each stimuli) were offered no incentives and participated in the study over three days. Demographic information was collected after the participant completed the study. Participants were asked to wear Tobii Glasses, which track pupil movements at 50hz/s (one-fiftieth of a cycle per second) and record the viewed scene with a forward-facing camera. Each participant was first calibrated with the glasses, then escorted into the CUshop to shop as normal. Next, the participant was handed a shopping list with a randomized listing of products. The participant was instructed to shop as they normally would and, when ready to make a selection, to write down the product code (between two and three digits) onto the space provided on the shopping list. When complete, the participant exited the shop and filled out a survey on a computer.

Coffee study results

Disposable single-serve coffee packaging was the focus of the study. A fake brand of coffee – Zapotec – was placed on a grocery store shelf alongside a competitive array of brand names, including Maxwell House, Gevalia, Donut Shop, Green Mountain and Keurig’s proprietary brand, Eight O’Clock. Three total packages were assessed – one package per day of the study – including a plain printed package (control), a package with red foil added and a package with gold foil added.

Purchase data was monitored. The Zapotec coffee package with no foil enhancement (the control package) rated lowest among all brands for those making a purchase decision. Adding gold foil stamping to the Zapotec packaging, however, attracted consumer attention that led shoppers to purchase the fake coffee brand just as often as Maxwell House and Green Mountain and more frequently than Eight O’Clock. Adding red foil stamping to the Zapotec package led the consumers in the study to choose unknown brand Zapotec over Maxwell House and Eight O’Clock.

In addition to purchase decision, the Tobii glasses utilized in the study allowed the CUshop researchers to collect data on what caught the consumer’s eye during the shopping experience. The red foil stamped area on the Zapotec packaging attracted the study participant’s attention 1.5 times faster than the same packaging without the high-visibility enhancement. The gold foil increased the rate of attraction, with the foil stamped area looked at 2.5 times faster than the control package.

While factors such as cost, brand loyalty and shelf location have significant influence on those making a purchase decision, the ability to attract and keep attention on crowded retail shelves is critical for brands looking for greater market share. The study data included additional information, including the following:

  • The samples containing high-visibility enhancements achieved a Total Fixation Duration (TFD) that was longer than 50 percent of the name brand placeholders on the shelf. TFD is the time, in seconds, spent on average by participants fixating on the item. This confirms that the initial attraction due to the package enhancement had transitioned to attention.
  • More than 46 percent of the study participants said they perceived packages with specialty printing to be of higher quality.


Once thought to be applicable for only luxury items, stamping foil applications now can be identified in many different markets. Publications, grocery items, pharmaceutical products, clothing, social stationery, gaming cards and promotional displays are now commonplace applications for stamping foil applications. Holographic foils have come into favor as a method of adding a level of product security to product packaging.

In addition to adding to the perception of quality and providing security, foil also attracts attention. This is particularly critical when attempting to differentiate a product on a crowded supermarket shelf. Today, stamping foils are available in over 100 shades of metallic finishes, dozens of decorative printed finishes and – in the last three decades – optically variable finishes. The possibilities for attracting consumer attention seem endless.

FSEA will be releasing a full white paper containing greater detail on the study results. To request the white paper, email FSEA Executive Director Jeff Peterson.