Never is packaging design and shelf stand out more important than at Christmas. Here Rosie Milton unwraps the thinking behind festive packaging design.
As the year draws to a close and the steady build of consumer Christmas reaches its loudest, most colourful crescendo, we might consider the careful process that has been undertaken from product conception to its place in-store. Whether mediated solely by the brand or created entirely within the design studio, the agencies that work with brands play a large part in the consumer’s seasonal experience. Year after year they are relied upon to ensure that the magic of the festive period is not lost, yet face the challenges of the fluctuating economy, as well as trends made popular by the digital, social landscape and the specific relationship between consumer and each individual brand. This has been Britain’s year of celebration. Images and experiences from the Olympics and the Jubilee will be remembered for years to come, and brands had their part to play too. From the sloppy slapping on of the union flag to more artful teasing out of Britishness in brands – for example Marmite’s witty limited edition pack ‘Ma’amite’ designed by Hornall Anderson – brands have become more “adventurous” and embraced the “feel-good, ‘Olympic factor’ as an excuse to be more light-hearted”, as Adam Ellis, creative director at Elmwood, puts it. For 2012 particularly, brands have felt more pressure to look involved. Bruce Duckworth, principal at Turner Duckworth, aptly describes it “there is a danger that you haven’t shown up to the party in a party dress or, to the other extreme, that your limited edition packaging looks like a bolt-on to the brand.” This year Turner Duckworth designed Toblerone’s playful seasonal packaging, using the smart mechanism of a designed sleeve that slides over the normal packaging, so after the season has ended, the pack still has longevity in the food cupboard.
Duckworth highlights the shift in sensitivity towards bombarding consumers with Christmas packaging for a quarter of the year: “Promotional packaging needs to look seasonal and build on brand values. It’s important not to leave anything behind, but to show a different side to the brand’s personality.” So how do designers approach seasonal, especially Christmas, packaging design in a meaningful and special way? If any trends were to emerge this year, it might be that even in the face of continuing economic drudgery, the consumer wants these highlighting moments of the year to feel special, and their investments a little bit luxurious.
This year Springetts Design has produced collectable tea caddies for Williamson Tea, adorned with patterned and illustrated elephants, harking back to the style of the exotic far east in the nineteenth century. Perfume house Penhaligon’s has similarly engaged in heritage with its 2012 Christmas Gift Collection, designed by agency jkr and inspired by a rich and elegant Victorian London.
Evoking the excitement and curiosity of an advent calendar, every drawn curtain reveals an exquisite tableau, with playful little details like the family of penguins in the rafters. jkr design director Matt Gilpin explains: “We wanted every box to reveal the magic of the theatre, uncovering all the aspects of the experience and the interesting and unusual characters you might see on the night.” A good relationship between consumer and brand can be associated with timeless design. Fortnum & Mason is an exponent of this particular affinity and is a fail-safe name to turn to during the Christmas period, with its elegant badge and patterning on pastel packaging adorned with ribbons.
Phil Carter, creative director at Carter Wong, recognises that when design is tasteful and refined, it does not need to rely heavily on Christmassy cues, such as snow or tinsel. He says: “It doesn’t really need gift wrapping at all. A strong, confident brand that knows its market and does that wonderful thing whereby you’ll part with your hard-earned cash for something that just looks... well, exquisite and very, very classy.”
Carter cites Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s as a strong example, using Christmas as an opportunity to shine with its bespoke packaging, designed by Irving & Co. For Ed Hayes, planning director at Bloom, the growing popularity for the limited edition pack has emerged out of the “world of the pop-up and brand generosity to the consumer, with giveaways and good communication of brand values through social media.” Hayes points to Ben & Jerry’s, Innocent and Coca-Cola as brands very adept at this. When consumers feel the brand is reaching out to them and engaging in their everyday experiences through these channels, they respond positively. If the design is just that little bit more individual and bespoke, the relationship grows stronger. Innocent retains simple, unchanging packaging throughout the year, positioning itself as a reliable and recognisable shelf brand. Its packaging engages with Christmas in a charming and personal way, giving each bottle a hand-knitted woolly hat.
Nostalgia still has a large presence in seasonal design and for Hilary Boys, strategic planning director at Lewis Moberly, this year it is Waitrose’s Christmas confectionary packaging that gets it right, with its “close-ups of the textures, seasonal patterns and colours of hand-knitted jumpers like your granny used to make”. Waitrose’s seasonal packaging also struck a chord with Polly Williams, associate creative director at Blue Marlin Sydney, who argues: “the Waitrose Christmas jumper design is the perfect vehicle to communicate Christmas. Can anyone do it? Yes. But no-one has done it before so it’s uniquely Waitrose. The design is quite region specific, but they have completely nailed the cliché of the British Christmas.”
Innovative interpretations of Christmas cues in design can sometimes be less transparent. This year Turner Duckworth produced the seasonal gift packs for longstanding client Liz Earle. On one pack is the image of a wreath made from Sea Holly – a plant native to the Isle of White where the beauty company is based. The brand is also known for championing natural ingredients. These little nuances are the result of a good relationship between a brand and its agency. Sometimes the idea might seem almost too clever for the average consumer, but creatively it still works to communicate both brand values and occasion beautifully. When the packaging works well, at any level of interpretation, it can often be more valuable than the product itself. After all, as the recent Ribena Plus Play Report indicates, a total of 46 per cent of parents said their children have more fun playing with the boxes than the toys inside. This might not be news to many parents out there, but it reveals a certain truth about the magic of design.BRAND PERSPECTIVES
COCA-COLA Zoe Howorth, marketing director, Coca-Cola GB
Our legacy goes all the way back to actually re-imagining what Santa Claus might look like, so all around the world consumers expect Coca-Cola to help ring the bells of Christmas, and that’s a lovely responsibility. It’s really, really important to us when we have a customer go into Tesco or Asda that the packaging itself helps to romanticise the idea of Christmas and being together. It’s a key driver of global brand values – getting the story right on the pack. WAITROSE Ruth Gavin, manager, graphic design packaging & brand, Waitrose
When we started working on our festive concept for 2012, we knew that this Christmas we wanted to really ramp up the warm and cosy feeling for our customers. We commissioned some knitted panels for the project, which are distinctive and ownable, and used these in our designs to communicate the Waitrose care and attention to detail. On our core ranges of packaging we have used the brightly coloured, patterned knits teamed with wooden buttons and natural string. On our more premium products we have a cable pattern gold knit with silky ribbons and bows. We have also specified special print finishes such as gloss varnishes and gold foil for the packaging of this upper tier to communicate the extra quality. Everyone in-house was very excited by the theme and came up with all kinds of ideas to stretch onto the point of sale and the decorations in-store, resulting in a very unified look and feel. PENHALIGON’S Emily Maben, head of global marketing, Penhaligon’s
Christmas is a critical season for Penhaligon’s from both a sales and branding perspective. When creating our yearly Christmas gift collection with jkr, one of our main objectives is always that the boxes should be both covetable and keep- able. We need our boxes to communicate our brand whilst being so beautiful that the thought of throwing one away would be sacrilege! We hear stories from our customers who use their empty boxes to house knick knacks, buttons and Christmas tree ornaments and enjoy displaying them in their homes. Our 2012 Christmas Collection was inspired by the glittering traditions of the London theatre scene. Each of the six boxes is festooned with charming illustrations of Victorian theatre-goers enjoying the show as a menagerie of animals run riot backstage. The audience seems oblivious to the trumpeting elephant, cat choir and penguin percussionists; seemingly they’re too engrossed in the onstage antics to notice. Richly gilded and festooned with lavish gold tassels, the gifts are so far having an exceptional reception from our customers and the press.