A case of bottled water sits on a shelf in an office on March 15, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif.
A case of bottled water sits on a shelf in an office on March 15, 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. - 
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A familiar scenario: You're thirsty. You walk into the store to buy something to drink. But you're exactly sure what you want, and you're inundated with choices.

The choice you eventually make will likely have more to do with what the package looks like than what's inside it. That might sound crazy, but it is what the beverage industry thinks you'll do.

Packaging is much more important today than it was a decade ago, says Gary Hemphill of the Beverage Marketing Corporation, because there are so many more products on the shelves.

"The package design, the package colors, are really a last chance to sell the product to the consumer," Hemphill says.

So who is doing the best job of marketing their beverage with the most attractive bottle? Arizona Iced Tea stands out, says Hemphill. "If you think about it in terms of marketing dollars spent -- advertising or billboards," he argues, "they do nothing. What they do is, they put all their effort in their packaging."

Iced tea tastes different, of course, from Red Bull or Diet Coke. But what about when it comes to the much more universal taste of, say, water?

It's a special case, says Hemphill. There are a lot of decisions consumers are making when it comes to water, and only some of them have to do with packaging -- size of the bottle, for instance, or the kind of bottle cap attached.

Of course, despite the era of specialization, what consumers buy does still depend on the beverage inside the bottle, Hemphill adds.


Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson