Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Product packaging takes center stage

I think there's some unofficial rule that says "when the New York Times talks about it, you know it's news." So needless to say, this article about the new importance of product packaging strikes me as something important to talk about. I for one have always been a sucker for packaging. Your company has a reputation for killing puppies and your products could be lethally toxic, but if you put them in a cool, shiny package, I'm going to be drawn to them (thankfully I don't often buy them, but seriously, the packaging can't do all the work).

Apparently Kleenex, Pepsi and a host of other big CPG manufacturers have figured this out, as they're all starting major packaging reworks in an effort to capture the imaginations (and paychecks) of more shoppers. Kleenex is abandoning it's iconic (and cheap to produce) square boxes for a new oval shape hoping to appeal to your inner interior designer. Coors has new beer bottle labels that change color when the beer has reached its ideal temperature (granted you'll still be drinking Coors -- no miracles here). But my favorite example has to be Pepsi, who will be changing the design of its Mountain Dew bottle a dozen or more times this year, all in hopes of attracting more attention on the shelf. Here's my favorite part of the article:

Laurent Nielly, who heads packaging innovation for Pepsi in North America, said young people -- Pepsi’s central audience -- have shorter attention spans than previous generations, so bottles and other containers have to change more often. Pepsi is experimenting with the designs on its Mountain Dew bottles, selling aluminum bottles covered in graffiti-like designs that will be changed 12 times from May to October. The bottles are sold only in eastern Virginia now, but the soda maker may expand the approach if sales of the bottles go well.

If products aren’t spraying consumers, they may someday be talking to them.

Some companies are studying technology to put a computer chip and tiny speaker inside a package. This idea might be particularly useful for big companies like Unilever that want to cross-promote their various brands. So a package of cheese could say “I go well with Triscuit crackers” when a shopper takes it off the shelf. As the costs of the chips come down, marketing executives said this and other technologies would appear more on shelves.

The mental image I get is pretty amusing, but one could also imagine the aisles of your everyday supermarket becoming much more noisy and annoying. Still, the inevitable march of progress suggests that such innovations are a virtual certainty -- at least until customers rebel against those overly-helpful packages of cheese and Triscuits.

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