Less really is more

Eniko Campbell and Kathleen Parle are, respectively, director of strategic planning and creative director, consumer branding, with Toronto-based Interbrand Tudhope. Daycare's closing! Traffic jam! Karate tonight or the ballet? Pick up cleaning! Teacher meeting! Project due! Laundry's piling! Company's coming!...

Eniko Campbell and Kathleen Parle are, respectively, director of strategic planning and creative director, consumer branding, with Toronto-based Interbrand Tudhope.

Daycare’s closing! Traffic jam! Karate tonight or the ballet?

Pick up cleaning! Teacher meeting! Project due!

Laundry’s piling! Company’s coming!

To the store – menu planning on the go!

Sound familiar? It should. This is how all too many of us live our lives these days: juggling work and home life, careening from one domestic or professional crisis to another, and forever lamenting the fatal shortage of hours in the day.

Want to attract this consumer’s attention? Here’s some advice: Keep it simple.

In surveys, nearly half of all Canadians report that they consider themselves time-poor. And marketers who bombard these harried consumers with ‘busy’ packages are making a big mistake.

With consumer demand for quality, convenience and value on the rise, packaging plays an indispensable role in building a successful brand. People buy the brands they have confidence in – and the physical appearance of the package is key to building that confidence.

Packaging is frequently the first point of brand contact with the consumer – the place where a lasting connection begins. It is the public face of a company, and the physical manifestation of its brands. Long after the media dollars have been exhausted, packaging remains your silent salesperson on the shelf.

In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s easy to understand why some brands end up trying to say too much with their packaging. Adding features and highlights, many marketers believe, will improve the chances of attracting the time-starved consumer’s attention.

They’re wrong. Busy packaging – covered with flashes and copy, all screaming in unison – only serves to create confusion. Consumers will stick with the options they already know, rather than trying a new brand whose product offering is unclear.

One recent U.S. study found that the average shopper spends slightly more than 20 minutes buying groceries, covering less than a quarter of the supermarket in the process. Add to this the fact that the eye lingers just 2.5 seconds on each product – a statistic from the Showcase and Learning Centre in Ithaca, N.Y. – and you begin to appreciate the challenge marketers face when creating new packages or revitalizing existing designs.

So what are the principles that will lead to reduced clutter and help brands connect with busy consumers?

Make the emotional connection. Since more than 40% of all communication is visual – with 80% of that driven by colour and shape – it is important to create a distinct ‘visual vocabulary’ that employs both visual and tactile stimuli to engage the consumer’s emotions. Bear in mind that ‘words tell and pictures sell.’ That is to say, consumers will easily forget a package’s text and flashes, so rely instead on images, colours and shapes that elicit a positive emotional response while remaining true to brand character.

Less really is more. The challenge, always, is to capture the essence of the brand in a 2.5-second infomercial. Clean, simple and bold packages will reach out from the shelf and capture the attention of the consumer. Corby Distilleries, for example, recently launched a line of ready-to-drink and ready-to-mix cocktails called Shocktales. To help this new offering stand out from the competitive shelf-set, Corby opted for a design strategy employing simple graphics and stylized fonts on transparent labels, leveraging the jewel-toned colours of the product. The result: a vibrant new entry into the category that gets noticed on shelf.

Consistency wins in shelf blocking. For multi-SKU and multi-format brands such as Primo Foods, it is crucial to create a consistent and uncluttered ‘brand architecture.’ A successful design system will unite the brand family and maintain the brand persona, while providing optimum differentiation between flavour variants.

Create it, and therefore own it. Increasingly, industrial design plays both a functional and an aesthetic role in product differentiation. Shape and texture can become as much a part of the brand as the product itself.

Be innovative. Successful brands are never constrained by the limitations of their packaging. OXO, for example, manages to make a powerful impact on shelf, despite the small size of its box. The brand’s unique use of its wordmark is proof that strong billboarding doesn’t rely on size alone.

Clearly define the USPs. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, a brand should ‘own’ one key attribute that makes its personality and promise clear. Think of those globally successful brands whose unique selling propositions distill the essence of the brand into a single thought. Coke, for example, owns authenticity: It is ‘the real thing.’

Prioritize. Establish a clear and consistent hierarchy of communications on-pack. Limiting the amount of text on the principal display panel will invite further study of the product. Research on women’s buying patterns with respect to health and beauty aids has shown that the majority read at least one product package before making a purchase. So there is a clear connection between reading and buying – provided that the message is clear.

Control the chaos. People see colours first and shapes second, and read copy last. So limit the number and size of flashes. A more accessible package spells a more positive experience, and will better enable the consumer to distinguish the brand offering.

Listen, learn and lead. There’s no substitute for knowing your consumer. Children, for example, interact with and react to colours differently than adults do. You and your design team need to develop strategies that are unique and appropriate both to the category and the particular target demographic.

Packaging uses various aesthetic stimuli to create different expressions and impressions of brand character. Simple, bold designs on uncluttered packages that communicate clearly the brand’s offering and value will make it easy for busy consumers to find, study and ultimately choose your brand.

Also in this report:

- Between the concept and the shelf: Just because a package looks good doesn’t mean it’ll work. Here’s how designers test their ideas p.31

- Sunrise cleans up with new tofu packaging p.32

- Out with the old, in with the new: Clearly Canadian dispenses with familiar look in effort to regain lost ground p.33

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