What’s the Big Deal About Wrapping Paper?

What’s the Big Deal About Wrapping Paper?

Does product packaging matter?

While we don’t necessarily agree with Erik Davis’s pronouncement that “Packaging and presentation are everything,” as marketers we understand the importance of selling the “sizzle” as well as the steak, especially when it comes to a product launch. If you apply this axiom to gift giving, wrapping presents can add an extra dimension of excitement to the holidays for many reasons.

Woman wrapping presents.

First, a beautifully wrapped present says that you not only value the gift inside but the person you’re giving it to. Second, whether a package looks cute, pretty or flat out stunning, it heightens expectations, adding considerably to the recipient’s enjoyment. Third, a well-wrapped present that shows off your creativity makes you look as good as the gift. And if all of that isn’t enough—wrapping gifts for those we care about is FUN!

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s scientific proof!

A few years ago, Dr. Daniel Howard, professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, devised a classic psychological experiment to see if a gift-wrapped present would be perceived more positively than one that wasn’t wrapped. Sure enough, 45 students asked to rate a gift-wrapped item versus an unwrapped one gave the wrapped present a significantly higher approval rating.

An Ancient Art

The act of wrapping gifts isn’t new and has been around for nearly as long as we have been exchanging presents.

Chinese Chih Poh

One of the first known instances of gift wrapping was in China round the 2nd century BC when paper envelopes called Chih Poh were used to give gifts of money to court officials. Decorated paper envelopes are still used to give gifts of currency in China—and around the world.

Modern example of Chih Poh that is decorated in a ladybug theme.

Bojagi & Furoshiki

During the 12th Century, Koreans created square cloths called Bojagi from a variety of materials such as silk to wrap gifts for various occasions.

Modern example of bojagi in purple and yellow gold color scheme.

The Japanese also used special cloth wrappings,, as well as flat paper sheets and paper boxes for gift giving. Reusable, and environmentally friendly, Furoshiki are becoming more and more popular in modern Japan. Not only can they be tied to accommodate almost any shape package, but by using a scarf, cloth napkin or handkerchief, you can give two gifts in one. Below is a diagram to show you how to use this technique to wrap gifts.

Diagram that shows steps for Furoshiki wrapping

Western Wrapping

The secret of paper making had traveled from the Far East to Europe by 1085 and with it the tradition of paper gift wrap.

People exchanging gifts packaged in brown paper and string.

Through the centuries, wrapping parcels in brown paper and string was standard practice for merchants and gift givers—both to protect the contents from soiling and to hide them from immediate view. By the 1800’s the well-to-do in Victorian England began to use patterned wallpaper by famous artists, fabric ribbons, laces and flowers to decorate gift packages. Package wrapping became an art form all of its own.

Wrapping paper/ wallpaper designed by William Morris
Wrapping paper/wallpaper designed by William Morris

But wallpaper was hard to fold and often tore during the wrapping process. It was soon replaced by tissue paper in red, green and white because tissue was more flexible and easier to handle.

In America, retailers like Buster Brown and R.H. Macy’s, wrapped purchases in sturdy manilla paper. Imprinted with the store’s name and logo, it was designed to, as a 1911 issue of Hardware Dealer’s Magazine put it, “Make friends for your store.” They used this gift wrap to open sales as well as complete them

In addition to the branded wrapping paper, shop owners and individual gift givers could use tissue paper—nicknamed “freak paper”—to hide gifts from view until they were exchanged. This “freak paper” led to a monster industry and started a well-known company that is still around today.

The Beginnings of Hallmark

The sort of wrapping paper that we use today began around 1917. The evolution started when two brothers who ran a stationary store in Kansas City, Mo., ran out of their usual inventory of tissue paper during the holiday season. Not wanting to disappoint their customers seeking gift wrap for Christmas presents, the brothers—Joyce and Rollie Hall—improvised by selling French paper for lining envelopes to fill in for the sold out tissue paper. The customers loved it and the brothers repeated this strategy the next year with even better results and bigger profits.


In 1919, realizing that they had a highly desirable product, the Halls decided to manufacture their own line of fancy holiday gift wrap. Thus, they not only created a new product for their shop—the Hallmark Store—they also gave birth to a new industry.

Bagging More Business

The quickest gift wrap ever—gift bags!

Another leap forward in gift wrapping occurred a few years earlier, when Walter Deubener, an enterprising grocer in St. Paul, Minnesota, created the first shopping bag with handles. His motive was simple. He wanted to make it easier for customers to carry their purchases home so they could buy more when they came in the store.

Green and red colored gift bags

Today, one in every five holiday presents is “wrapped” in a gift bag, the logical extension of Deubener’s original invention. Whatever their theme, shape or color—gift bags are easily the most convenient way to wrap gifts as well as carry them. And they have the added advantage of being reusable after their contents are removed.

Whether you wrap a present in paper or cloth, encase it in a lovely bag or use an envelope for cash, you’re observing a tradition that is as old as gift-giving itself. Best of all, the choice you make is an opportunity to give the biggest gift of all—your time, effort and an expression of your own creative brand.


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