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Let's Wrap - The psychology of making a present special

December 8, 2008

In research done 16 years ago, SMU Marketing Professor Daniel Howard found nothing improves the worth of a gift like taking the time to see that it's nicely wrapped - a conclusion that still applies today.

SMU Professor Daniel Howard
Daniel Howard

"I believe the results I obtained are just as relevant today, if not more so," Howard said. "I suspect that is especially true in difficult economic times, when people are even more appreciative of gift wrapping and its effect on product attitudes will be particularly strong."

To test his theory, Howard designed a series of experiments in 1996 to gauge whether a gift-wrapped item influenced the recipient to have a more favorable attitude towards owning it.

In one of the experiments, 60 university students were given either wrapped, unwrapped or "nontraditionally wrapped" gifts (wrapped in brown packaging paper with neither ribbons nor bows). The nicely wrapped gift was the favorite, while the unwrapped gift was the least favorite. Even the non-traditionally wrapped gift (in plain brown paper) was preferred over the one that was not wrapped at all.

What Howard found was that wrapped gifts put the recipients in a happier mood.

To help illustrate that point, Howard mentioned the impetus for the study - an overheard conversation between a salesperson and a customer:

wrapped present with bowSalesperson: This is very nice. I'm sure she'll be happy with it. Take it to the back counter and we'll wrap it for you.

Customer: Oh, there's no need for that.

Salesperson: Sure there is. You should have it wrapped.

Customer: Why?

Salesperson: Because she'll like it better.

Read more about the study, or read the study.

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