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Now That I Have Your Attention... Case Study: Top-Down Attention and Package Testing


In the last couple of blogs, we have looked at attention, what it is and how neuromarketing can be used to attract it better. We’ve mentioned top-down attention before but, in this post, we’ll do a deep dive into what it is and how it’s used by marketers. We’ll also look at a case study involving Albany bread’s recent packaging redesign.

Top-down attention is more deliberate than bottom-up attention. Rather than being drawn to whatever catches our eye the most (bottom-up attention), top-down attention is when we consciously focus our attentional resources on something specific. For example, if you’re at a store looking to buy a black t shirt, you’ll ignore the brighter colours and shapes around you as you search for your desired black item.

A lot of advertising works by telling customers how best to search for a brand through iconograph, symbolism and repetition – McDonald’s golden arches are highly recognisable, especially when you’re hungry for a quick meal. The reason most brands logos are simple and distinct is so that people can notice it while they’re looking for products within that brand’s category – and they’ll notice it from 10 inches or 10 feet away.

Without realising it, Albany was interested in both bottom-up and top-down attention when they contacted Neural Sense about their packaging redesign. Albany aimed to give a new look to their product packaging while both maintaining important signifiers of their brand and increasing attention towards their packaging in the already cluttered bread section of supermarkets. They wanted to know two things: First, how do consumers navigate the bread section at a supermarket or spaza shop? What draws their gaze and what do they ignore? This is bottom-up attention. Second, what elements and iconography do customers look for on bread packaging when attempting to identify a specific brand variant? This is top-down attention.

To answer these questions, Neural Sense set up studies at two locations: one at a general retailer and one in a supermarket. Participants were given eye tracking glasses to wear which allowed them to move freely through the store environment while tracking their gaze path. Their galvanic skin response was measured to understand the emotional impact of what they were looking at. Participants were also shown isolated images of different packaging icons and asked to comment on what they thought each of these meant. Their eye-gaze and fixations, emotional arousal and facial expressions were tracked to understand their visual navigation, areas of focus and emotional experience of these icons.

When looking at the packaging and iconography, customers were most concerned with signifiers of health and nutritional information. However, icons denoting freshness were often misunderstood, as when checking the freshness for of the bread, most customers actually squeezed the bread or looked for the sell-by date, rather than relying on any icons.

Recommendations for the redesign therefore focused not only around how to make the packaging more salient, but also which information to include and omit from the packaging entirely. This ultimately helped Albany economise the available space withinin their redesign and focus on giving customers the information they actually wanted in a way that was highly salient.

With neuromarketing, Albany was able to understand where their customers’ bottom-up attention was drawn – contrast, unusual shapes – and direct where their top-down attention focused – nutritional information, brand and freshness indicators.


Sternberg, R.J. Cognitive Psychology (1996). 2nd Edition. Yale University.


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