New designs draw on brand equity

The First Commandment for package designers has always been: 'Thou shalt dream up something that cuts through the clutter, leaps off the shelf and shouts 'choose me - I'm the one you really want!''...

The First Commandment for package designers has always been: ‘Thou shalt dream up something that cuts through the clutter, leaps off the shelf and shouts ‘choose me – I’m the one you really want!”

That standard operating procedure is based on the widely accepted ’80% rule,’ which holds that consumers make the lion’s share of their buying decisions while actually shopping. So the sizzle created by advertising and other promotions may inspire treks to the mall, but whoever displays the most enticing products will win the 80% impulse-buy prize.

Belief in this tenet appears to be at an all-time high, judging by the blitz of packaging changes currently underway.

Some of the oldest brands on the planet are playing the makeover game. Arm & Hammer, for example, broke a 150-year run with its baking soda packaging last month by coming up with a spiffy new plastic shaker. And Cadbury Beverages’ Canada Dry celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2000 with a heritage-evoking package redesign.

Even the humble prune is getting in on the act. Following in the successful footsteps of Chinese gooseberries, which soared to stardom after being rechristened Kiwi fruit, prunes are now being marketed as ‘dried plums’ (a moniker that could probably stand a tad more tweaking).

Meanwhile, comparatively youthful products such as L’eggs, Listerine, Special K, Pampers and Pepsi-Cola are following suit.

And one of the all-time marketing champs, Coca-Cola, has declared a global free-for-all that encourages licensees to develop their own packaging and advertising campaigns to suit local tastes, says corporate communications director Wendy Kubota.

(In Thailand, for example, new television advertising for Coke brand Fanta features a mascot named Dr. Som Sud-Za – a.k.a. Dr. Orange Very Fizzy – who ‘discovered’ four mysterious orange objects that apparently fell to the ground from outer space.)

What prompted these wholesale reincarnations? Some say marketers were jolted by the overwhelmingly positive public response to a cluster of seemingly out-of-the-blue redesigns: Apple’s iMac computer and retro-style cars including Volkswagen’s new Beetle, Daimler-Chrysler’s PT Cruiser and Ford Motor Company’s Thunderbird. The result, they say, was a wake-up call the essence of which was: Who’da thunk consumers could get that turned on by styling?

That’s part of the explanation, says Anne Marie Pagliacci, general manager of Toronto design firm Design Partners. But these mega-makeovers actually lead straight back to something that’s neither new nor radical. ‘It’s really a rediscovery of the original brand essence. People go, ‘Oh, wow, it’s a beautiful package but I get it, I understand it, because I love this brand that I’m suddenly rediscovering.’ ‘

Greg Bérubé, vice president and general manager of Toronto-based Strategies International, agrees that the best of the recent redesigns aren’t just about looking new enough to stand out in a crowd. They’re about echoing the original brand equity.

In the past several years, he says, a realization has set in among marketers about the role packaging plays in the overall marketing mix.

‘We now consider packaging as integral to overall brand development. It’s the conduit of the brand from a long-term standpoint because it’s tangible and because it has a lot more longevity than advertising or direct mail or any other medium. People pick [the product] up, take it home and live with it for awhile.’

And there’s another probable motivation for some of the recent makeovers, explains Susan Whyte, senior brand manager at Parmalat Canada (producers of Beatrice milk products). Thanks to the Internet, the pressure to achieve visual brand differentiation has never been more intense. ‘You don’t just have to stand out in a store environment, [but] also on a computer screen,’ she says. ‘So when someone clicks on, say, GroceryGateway.com, that tiny little photo of your carton really has to jump out.’ This likely explains reports that Nestlé is planning to invest $1.8 billion in Web-based repackaging efforts over the next three years.

Something that shouldn’t be new in any discussion of packaging, says Barbara Grant, communications manager for Kelowna, B.C.-based Sun-Rype Products, is asking consumers what they want and need. She says the development of the company’s Fruit To Go snack, as well as its new Energy To Go bar, was a direct response to consumer insight sessions held last year. ‘Participants told us what they needed in terms of their lifestyle and getting their kids to eat healthy food, and even what they want the packaging to communicate.’

Similarly, requests for a practical package innovation were heeded by Parmalat, says Whyte. The result was the addition of easy-pour spouts to its Beatrice and Lactantia milk cartons about three years ago.

Sidebar: No hot buttons left unpushed: Packaging embraces on-the-go lifestyles and gimmicks galore

Terry Poulton recently visited the local Shoppers Drug Mart for Strategy to observe packages in their natural habitat. The shelves revealed some obvious strategies and visual standouts in the winner-takes-most game:

Moving targets

Food marketers are spying gold in today’s frantic lifestyles. Their response? Downsizing products into portable packs and two-in-one take-alongs, all festooned with urgent, forward-motion packaging. And it’s not just biggies like Star-Kist’s tuna and crackers or Pringles’ new two-ounce Go-Go Pak. B.C.-based Sun-Rype’s Fruit To Go proved so successful that fruit giant Del Monte recently paid major bucks to use the name in the U.S. on its portable fruit cups.

Youth must be served

From cradle to convertible, marketers are pursuing youngsters with everything from Toddler Cuisine (Heinz) to toothpastes festooned with Bugs Bunny and other cartoon characters (Colgate). Dr. Scholl’s even has colourfully decorated Clear Away wart remover strips for kids. General Mills put windows in its cereal boxes to reveal free CDs inside. And, on a more altruistic note, packaging for Unilever’s Good Humor brand recently began touting its support of the World Wildlife Fund on ice cream and Popsicle packaging.

Planet echinacea

With an eye to health-conscious consumers, marketers are stuffing echinacea into as many products as possible and ballyhooing the fact all over their packaging. Other examples of the health-first marketing technique include a generous scattering of the terms ‘herbal,’ ‘botanical’ and ‘all-natural.’ And you’re nobody in the hand soap world if your package isn’t declaring war on bacteria like Vi-Jon’s Germ Blaster ‘hand sanitizer pump.’

Gotta have a gimmick

L.A. Girl recently launched Hip Hop Color Hits, an array of lipsticks and eye shadows packaged in a CD case complete with a list of ‘song titles’ such as Ponytail Pink on the back. Deciding that edible Valentine cards would really push the product, Hershey launched the Hugs & Kisses Friendship Exchange, packaging one white chocolate and one brown chocolate Kiss with write-on ‘To’ and ‘From’ areas. And to promote its Quo house-brand cosmetics line, Shoppers Drug Mart is using ‘Beauty Emergency’ header cards, complete with a nurse-to-the-rescue cartoon character.

Finally, Cover Girl has Tiny Trys, which are miniature-sized three-pack lipsticks and foundations in various shades. They sell for a measly $1.99 and are encased in an eye-catching ice-blue neon point-of-purchase display case.

Also in this report:

- Michelina’s brand extension brings fine dining home p.B8

- Nexient delivers modern classics: Designers overcame contradiction to perfect whisky packaging p.B9

- Package design deconstructed p.B11