Packaging is the interface that brings buyer and seller together. It is the shiny glint that lures the unsuspecting passers-by; the tempting wrapper that entices customers to the wares that lie beneath the surface. It’s the sexy little black number that begs to be unzipped... and hopefully what’s underneath won’t disappoint. (Even with the sexiest packaging in the world, if what’s inside isn’t good, the consumer won’t buy it again.)
In the industry of marketing – a world that regularly involves dressing a product or proposition to make it more appealing to the customer – packaging is the most literal form of the act.
While the similarities between the worlds of fashion and packaging could not be more removed, there are, however, a couple of parallels. (Two, precisely.) Like the far-removed, world of fashion, trends change. But moreover, fashion – just like packaging – is about looking good, dressing up similar products to make them look more unique and appealing.
“The old adage, that presentation is nine tenths of a sale, is so true,” says Craig Mackinlay, founder of Breeze Creative. “It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about in life, first impressions count. When you consider the plethora of FMCGs in a major supermarket, for example, all shouting for customers’ attention, your brand has to stand out.
“In a climate where marketing departments strive to make their budgets stretch further and further, good packaging is a very powerful tool for enticing and engaging the consumer.”
Hookson’s MD, Bryan Hook agrees. “For products where the packaging element is the first point of contact for consumers then design is crucial,” he says. “Consumers are bombarded with thousands of images a minute, so good standout, eye catching packaging and quality design will enhance your particular product’s share of voice.
“A lot depends on the channel, the product and the way in which it is to be promoted. For companies that do not have a great deal of money to support their product, then packaging plays a central role in selling a brand. For most consumers, their first contact with a brand is when they see it on the shelf – first impressions are very important.”
In fact, says Bill Mather of Full Circle Design, it comes down to a matter of milliseconds to impress.
“When sales and marketing are trying to get a product listed in the multiples, they have a time slot to convince the buyer to stock and display. This decision is normally made in the first 30 seconds of sighting the merchandise and you have one shot at it – that’s how important it is.
“What else do you have at the point of purchase? It’s a fleeting glance from a consumer. The pack conveys its message in that nano-second, or all is lost.
“When designing a product all the price and quality clues have to be built in, and what you want to convey is the product – high value or cheap and cheerful – through the design clues that help identify its positioning. More and more, the only support a brand has is its design budget, so you either get the pack right or it’s goodnight.”
However, Tayburn’s managing director, Simon Farrell, claims that packaging isn’t just about looking good, it must be multi-tasking too. “Packaging has to work on so many levels,” he says. “Firstly, from a functional point of view, the packaging must keep the product safe and secure. It must not leak, be tamper proof, protect the product in transit and so on. Secondly, it must be easy to open. An increasing amount of effort in food and drink packaging is going into making the product instantly accessible; ring pull cans, easy pour spouts and quick release mechanisms. Thirdly, the packaging must shout from the shelf. Today’s customer is bombarded with more options than ever before. In the average supermarket there are more than 40,000 lines so to get noticed in this environment your packaging has to really stand out.
“Finally, the packaging must embody the brand. The shape, the materials, the texture, the colours, the graphics, the words and the images must all work together to project the exact essence of the brand and what it stands for.
“In fact, today, packaging is becoming the most important tool in shaping customers’ perception. Many smaller companies don’t have the marketing budget to invest in heavyweight brand awareness and perception building campaigns so they rely on the on-shelf presence to do the job. Even large companies such as Heinz have retracted all their above-the-line activity to focus on what’s happening in-store.”
The importance placed on packaging by both marketers and consumers alike, means that packaging buyers need more in-depth knowledge of materials and processes than ever before, says Suzi Ellis of packaging specialists Progress Packaging. “Just visit the high street or supermarket to see the incredibly complex packaging designs on the shelves and take a moment to study the range of materials used. This attention to detail was left to the high-end brands in previous years, but is now taken as an essential part of the marketing mix even on the budget brands, increasing the need for packaging buyers to become more aware of production processes.
“Every marketer strives to bring individuality to their brand. Consumers have become more aware of selling techniques and look at the packaging as a given part of the product rather than an added extra. If you look at consumer brands such as Jo Malone and Tiffany, their packaging is a synonymous part of the brand itself. Much of today’s packaging competes against a noisy background as consumers are bombarded with high impact visual images in an ever more competitive world. Designers and marketers are forced to use ever more inventive and innovative ways to get their brand to stand out.”
Kevin Johnstone, of packaging business Kings Croft Logistics, adds: “The demands are becoming more individual. For example, one of our clients was the first to package its haggis in a stand-up pouch – it has given them a high profile in the POS, increased exposure overall and has also allowed them to increase their area of advertising through using their packaging to utilise their shelf exposure. This has worked extremely well for them.
“But also, the needs of the packaging buyers have changed, due to environmental legislation, for example, and some clients see their packaging as an advertising tool and not just as a cost.”
However, Elmwood’s MD, Nick Ramshaw believes that the usual stumbling block is often the cost: “Getting the pack unit price down to a manageable level (ie profitable) is the real difficulty, but we are always realistic from the beginning of each project, designing within the budget parameters firmly in mind. The other major issue for us is poor quality control, especially over huge print runs.
“But creating the right packaging is absolutely essential, especially in these days of fragmented media. Brand owners can't afford to do lots of marketing, so to create impact packaging design has never been more important. That 'brand in the hand' feeling makes all the difference in persuading the shopper to make that purchase decision.
“Most marketers now understand that packaging is vitally important, especially as their budgets have been cut and they can't afford the full range of other marketing activities. However, there are still some who put less weight on it, but thankfully the days of clients awarding advertising contracts to ad agencies who throw in the packaging design as a freebie seem to be over.
“Still, I don't think the clients are looking hard enough for fresh design and ideas, or using brand experts early enough in the process (for both existing brands and NPD). Many seem to default to the more traditional approach they are used to, which tends to stifle creativity. The packaging specialists within the design industry in Scotland have much more to offer and hopefully the brand owners will try new approaches and be a little more ambitious in the future.“
Breeze’s Mackinlay also believes that some clients might still need to be educated in the important role of design. “Sadly and frustratingly, sometimes people might come to us to build a website as they believe it will help them get more sales, but they can’t see that their biggest barrier to trade is actually their packaging. It is our job to try to get them to see the whole picture – to see the synergies that can be achieved by viewing the product and packaging as one entity.”
“Increasingly brand owners are looking for differentiation,” concludes Hook, “especially as consumers are now generally very marketing savvy and, in some cases, anti marketing. To this end, looking at different forms of packaging is always interesting.”