Thursday, October 25, 2007

Three trends in product packaging: make 'em easy, smart and green

A few months ago I wrote about a Wall Street Journal article highlighting some of the dramatic changes going on in the product packaging industry. Media fragmentation, changes in viewing audiences, measurement conundrums and everything but the kitchen sink are being held up by ad execs as excuses for why media budgets continue to spiral upwards while ad effectiveness declines. But when push comes to shove, eventually people have to buy stuff. And when they do, they're going to come face to face with product packages.

Realizing this, CPG companies have started packaging strategies to guarantee that their wares will practically jump off the shelves thanks to eye-catching package designs that communicate their product's benefits and stand out from the competition. Even AdAge, who's not exactly the most friendly group when it comes to below-the-line advertising practices, featured a couple of articles about packaging and product sampling, illustrating how important the First Moment of Truth (FMOT) has become for product manufacturers. For example, in a recent (really good) article on the subject, Allen Adamson of branding consultancy Landor Associates notes that:
If you don't have luck connecting with the audience you want as they sit in front of TVs or laptops, sooner or later they're going to show up in front of a retail shelf. That's a great segue to the second dynamic driving rekindled interest in packaging as a branding tool: the increasingly difficult time brands are having differentiating themselves in a sea of shelf clutter. Any brand research worth its salt will tell you that differentiation, together with relevance, is the most critical factor in brand success.
His advice? First, use strong design cues to both draw attention to the product, and tell a story about it. Some of his favorite examples include Apple's products and Evian water, which all use the package to illustrate qualities inherent to the product (simplicity and elegance for Apple, purity for Evian). More interesting examples include those where the package is an actual part of the product, and thus needs to market itself reflexively (for example, Campbell's Microwavable Soups or Nabisco's 100-calorie packs). Second, follow the key trends going on in the packaging world right now. That means that:

1. Green is good: Be environmentally friendly -- or at least less unfriendly -- and you can tout it as a feature!

2. Smart is good: Engineer packages that help consumers use your product (like Hellman's mayo in a squeeze bottle).


3. Easy is good: If I have to open one more damned razor-sharp plastic clamshell package, I'm going to quit your brand for good.

Manufacturers are already picking up on lots of these trends, but examples of packages that meet all three are still few and far between right now. As product packaging grabs more attention I expect this to change, especially when you consider that it's one of the more affordable ways to make a really significant marketing impact at the point of sale these days. For now, though, those companies that had the foresight to start paying attention to the above trends and redesign their packaging accordingly are enjoying benefits on the shelf that will be hard to match with additional spending on above-the-line ads.

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