The 101 of Packaging Design

With this piece, we take a look at the 101 of Product Packaging. The author, Saurabh Bajaj, is a Marketing Head (Dairy) at Britannia. He’s contributed several pieces at Casereads – you can find them all here. We’re also excited to announce that he was recently recognized as “100 most admired Brand and Inspirational leaders & Marketing Marvels” 2020 by Forbes. There was never a doubt about how fantastic a person he is!

Alright, let’s now take a look at the piece.

One part of Marketing that everyone in the world is an expert of is, Packaging design. Many Brand managers have nightmares aligning the entire organization of a winning design. Could this be because Design is all art and only those with special gifts can crack it?

I really don’t think so.

In fact, my belief is exactly the opposite! I believe packaging design is actually all science and while creativity brings in flair, it’s very important to understand the principles that deliver a visual delight & the expected business delivery.

The Science of Pack Design

It’s interesting that I only understood this bit during my stint with Diageo. The bit goes like this: All Pack Designs are only a collection of assets.

Every piece of art can be broken apart into discrete elements and one can mount a study that helps you identify how important each of these assets are.

So if one looks at Lux, the assets on the pack are:

  • Lux written in a characteristic style
  • The Gold colour in which Lux is written
  • The flowers for each range
  • The variant descriptor “Shake me up”, “Velvet Touch”, etc.
  • The benefit: “For revitalized refreshed skin”
  • 175g
  • The small bottle of perfume

Next, the research can help you rate each of these attributes on 2 very simple parameters: That is to identify Which ones are meaningful & which ones are distinctive.

Meaningful means those attributes that add to the brand proposition of personality. Like one might say that the way Lux is written in gold is extremely meaningful as it connotes luxury and glamour. Similarly, the shots of the flowers are extremely meaningful as they connote a feeling of silky lather, or bring alive a pool full of petals.

Distinctively, bring up the other end. Lux is unlikely to be the only soap pack design with flowers and hence flowers may not be distinctive. Again a lot of the text might feel generic. You can expect to find ‘Shake me up’ as much of Liril as on a Lux pack. Benefits like ‘noticeable soft skin’, may again be expected on a Dove.

You can see how packaging influences the advertisements – the makeup and dressing of the protagonist in the ad above.

And hence the first task for any Brand manager, planning to Pack Design refresh must do a clear audit of her Brands pack assets and rate them on being meaningful & distinctive.

Related: Take a look at What are Brand Personalities?
The Design Brief

Once you have audited your pack design and arrived at the rating of your assets, it’s important for you to state clearly about what do you want the design team to do with those assets.

So there are several things that can be done with your pack assets:

1. Weed out the assets that are neither meaningful nor distinctive: If you see the journey of Dairy Milk, they started with a number of meaningless assets, over time they just kept making their pack simpler by getting rid of everything that was not adding meaning. The big change from 1999 to 2013 was just about getting rid of the white band.

Related: Take a look at Story of Mondelez India

2. Accentuate the Assets that are both meaningful & distinctive. The most fascinating example of the Brand that has done this well is Kellogg’s special K. They realized that their most meaningful & distinctive asset was “K”, so they simply blew it up on the back and came up with a design that can be spotted from a mile away.

3. Add meaning to assets that are Distinctive but not necessarily meaningful.

In the case of Toblerone, they have a fine triangular-shaped pack which is definitely distinctive but what is the meaning that it connotes? Very smartly the makers of the Brand have linked it to the triangular shape of the ‘Matterhorn’, the Swiss mountain with a distinct symmetrical shape. And hence the design lends further credibility to the Swiss heritage of the famous chocolate brand.

4. Finally, make an asset which is already meaningful, more distinctive. For example, Oreo realized that the two assets that are most meaningful about their pack are the blue colour and the biscuit shell. In subsequent refreshes, they owned a particular shade of blue and magnified the biscuit on the pack.

 5. And finally, add new assets. Now, this is often the riskiest proposition and must be done carefully. Because when you reduce the assets on the pack and make it less cluttered, your product can be spotted more easily on a shelf and your brand personality shines out stronger. But the moment you add new assets you tend to alienate your core users or often confuse them. And hence one has to be extremely careful about adding anything new unless it has some very meaning and can accentuate the proposition. An example of that is the new biscuit design of Moms magic. Now it’s not completely new, as the pack has always held a heart in some share and form. However, it’s clearly an asset that Moms’s magic is looking to disproportionately invest behind and hence from something that could have been easily missed, it now comes across as the core of the brands.

In Conclusion

Hence, in conclusion, I believe most Packaging design is more science than art. It’s about clearly identifying the assets that you own. How, meaningful & distinctive they are. And then deciding are you going to add meaning to distinctive assets or make meaningful assets more distinctive. The more you de-clutter your pack the more iconic it becomes. Often to strengthen or shift your proposition, new assets need to be added, however they are best done when they borrow from some memory structures that are already available on your packs. This framework also gives you a great way to evaluate designs that your agencies bring and for you to get thought clarity on what you are seeking to deliver!

The Author

The author of this piece is Saurabh Bajaj, if the piece adds value, head on to LinkedIn, and drop a thank you. You can also share the piece with your best friend on WhatsApp.

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