The five things product packaging should do



This article is from Simon Preece, Director of Efficiency at Elm wood, a branded design consulting firm whose clients include Fairway Supermarkets,

Kimberly clark


The design of the brand of consumer products is wrongly based on the idea that buyers make rational and informed decisions. In truth, most are purely instinctive and reactive. Eye tracking studies show that consumers read an average of only seven words during a full shopping trip, instinctively buying based on color, shape, and location familiarity. Best-sellers succeed by appealing to the reptilian brain, which decides before logic has a chance.

Instinctive reactions can be built into the packaging through the application of biomotor triggers. These are sensory signals that affect our subconscious, generating emotions and actions before the conscious part of our brain can react. There are many triggers and we have identified 16 interconnected key combinations. Understanding these primary cues can help brands connect emotionally with consumers, build defensible assets, and sell more products.

To be successful, each brand must have a distinctive point of view and be able to express that purpose clearly and unique. Effective packaging makes it easy to understand at a glance who I am, what I am and why I am relevant to your life. Naturally, the product has to keep its promise to guarantee a repeat purchase.

1. Stand out. You need to make your brand the consumer’s leading sign in the category. Covering the shelf and screaming louder than everyone else won’t be enough. You need an orientation point on the packaging that catches the eye of the customer and communicates the essence of the proposition. One way to do this is with cusps. Cusps are sharp, pointed shapes that trigger feelings of fear, danger, and caution. You couldn’t miss the commercials for Maleficent before the Disney premiere, as everything from the typeface to Angelina Jolie’s clothes, hairstyle, and eye makeup formed cutting edge shapes that demanded your attention. Likewise, you can’t miss Nexxus on the shelf, as the logo’s cusp shapes catch your eye and thus stand out on the shelf.

2. Keep it simple. A simple design is more efficient. In a busy and visually hectic market, we so rarely experience moments of visual or auditory calm that we gravitate towards it. Buster, the drain cleaner who once barked at the heels of Mr. Muscle (Europe’s Mr. Clean), toppled the giant in England by introducing a small pack lacking the powerful graphics that characterize products down the aisle. An Elmwood customer, Buster also recognized the emotional turmoil of consumers needing to unclog a drain and responded with calm, clean, and simple packaging that contrasted with the visual noise of the shelf. Sales increased by 42% and market share reached 30% unattended above the line, and the brand is now expanding in Europe and Asia.

3. Pass the five-year test. If you can describe your brand to a five-year-old, send it to a store to find it and get it, your packaging creates an iconic connection. Consumers will come back week after week for it. The key to this grip is a distinctive brand. For example, you could tell a five-year-old to take the bag of salt with the girl in the yellow coat with an umbrella on it; she will return with Morton Salt. Likewise, ask for the blue pack with the big black and white milk splashed cookie, and it will come back with a packet of Oreos.

4. Trigger emotional engagement. Consumers take action when a brand does to feel Something. When someone looks at you, you are forced to look back to determine the nature of the attraction. It’s your survival instinct at work. For this reason, there is nothing more powerful about packaging than eye contact. The next time you’re in an aisle, notice how many packages have pictures of people not making direct eye contact; they look away or pass you slightly.

Can of coke (Photo credit: Bev Goodwin)

5. Create iconic assets. The best packaging creates a series of visual actions, a sort of toolbox that can be transposed to any form of consumer communication. Coke is the master of this. The brand has an array of strengths – the choppy red, the vibrant contour wave, the iconic bottle shape, and the logo typography – all of which can be used to help amplify the brand experience. People think that the

Coca Cola
the logo is all about the signature and flowing curves. But take a closer look, and you’ll see three cusps – two under the “C” and “a” in Coke and one in the center of the “C” in Cola – that focus your eyes on the center of the words. From there, your eyes can perceive the curves and the suggestion of flow which is accentuated by the rest of the typography and amplified by the bottle. The assets are so memorable that even the suggestion of one in any marketing communication connotes the feelings associated with the brand.

In an age when many consumers are actively filtering marketing messages, the safest place for marketing managers to have a bigger impact is the point of consideration. This can be done consciously when the biomotivated triggers are built into the packaging. The conversation about creativity shifts from subjective likes and dislikes to the underlying scientific attraction, which allows design to be responsible for the quantifiable increase in sales. That way, manufacturers and retailers can make more informed choices that make more money.



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