On yesterday's broadcast of American Public Media's Marketplace program, host Bob Moon interviewed marketing professor Nathan Novemsky from Yale University's Center for Customer Insights. He recently conducted a study on how gift wrapping influences people's reactions to gifts, and test subjects who got presents wrapped in brown paper were happier with the presents inside.
Sometimes, according to Novemsky, it's better to not wrap the gift at all.
And one of the interesting findings was that if you wrap a gift, you raised peoples expectations and the liking of the same gift goes down. If you wrap a gift that, you know, is really just meant to be a little something, it might behoove you not to wrap it — or if you are going to wrap it, to not wrap it so nicely.
And in conclusion:
We tend to have this idea in our heads — that we get from our culture and from a lot places — that wrapping universally is a good thing and better wrapping is better than less good wrapping. So I think in general I would tell people to dial down the amount of effort, the amount of time, the amount of expense you're willing put into gift wrapping because it's not really making people happier and more willing to reciprocate.
My strategy is to use what I already have when it comes to wrapping presents, which is boxes of gift bags I've saved (hoarded?) over the years and copies of the Times-Picayune and my lovely employer Gambit. I usually wrap my presents in newspaper and paint them; if you decide to do the same, just make sure you pull from the less depressing sections of the paper.