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Traditionally, advertising has led the creative communication for
the brand marketing campaign, with packaging design being a smaller
and more isolated component of the brand development. We all know
the distinctive red and white “uniform” associated with the
Coca-Cola brand packaging, but it was undoubtedly the “It's the
real thing” advertising campaign in the 1980s that cemented Coke's
place in the hearts and minds of the consumer, making the brand a
global success.The creative power shift
Today, brands across every sector are facing an increasingly
competitive brand landscape and an increasingly cynical consumer.
Today's consumers do not want the “hard sell” and tend to disregard
mass brand communications —such as advertising —in favor of more
personalized messaging mediums such as word-of-mouth
recommendations and community marketing initiatives.
Like these initiatives, package design has the power to connect
with the consumer to communicate a brand's message on a more
physical and individual level. It's time for the full potential of
package design as a brand and business asset to be fully recognized
To understand this creative shift and the evolving brand-marketing
picture, we need to start by studying consumers and their
motivation for buying. From recent media and industry sources, we
know that today's consumers do not want to be explicitly marketed
to and the blatant “hard sell” of advertising is turning them off.
But, they are, of course, still buying brands.
What is attracting them to brands today? Research has shown that
they are looking for that something extra-not to just buy,
but to buy into brands. We have found that they are more
inner-directed-not motivated by mass advertising or peer
pressure-but they are looking for a more intimate offering and a
way to co-create the brand (to imbue a sense of personal authorship
and individual expression). They are buying to express rather than
impress. They want a more intimate and physical relationship with
brands just as they would expect from people.
Intimacy and individuality are undoubtedly at odds with the
one-size-fits-all ethos that defines advertising. In addition, some
recent advertising has become so clever and aspirational that
(although we can appreciate the creativity) it forges a divide and
sense of disassociation rather than pulling us closer to the
product being promoted. The size of the United States and the
breadth of media channels pushing advertising only adds to this
fragmentation of advertising. The design industry now has the
opportunity to educate, inspire and excite brand owners and shift
the creative mindset in line with the changing consumer
In the current climate, packaging design is effective simply
because, more than any other medium, it stays true (both physically
and metaphorically) to the product. It is the key interface between
brand and consumer as it can connect on a physical, spiritual and
sensory level to create that all- important ingredient to guarantee
brand success: desire.
Design and desire To be successful, every brand
needs to retain and build desire, but with desire being a
continually evolving force, this is not easily attainable. With
today's discerning consumer desiring the personal, the intimate and
the individual, brands need to look at ways to build these elements
into their brands and to create this desire. Above all, brands need
to help the buyer buy rather than the seller sell.
Design is having the vision to make something substantially better
for the consumer, and packaging design is the key medium for
tapping into today's desire and communicating it in a way that the
consumer believes. It can convey a host of messages that appeal to
the sensibilities of different consumers through written or visual
language, and by considering all the elements of packaging design
such as naming, graphics, structure and texture. A successful
package design will balance these key components to allow the
individual respect, knowledge, connection, freedom and
contradiction in all their choices; creating desire by allowing
them to be both part of the overall brand experience and to create
an individual interpretation.
With brands and businesses ever more accountable, we need to be
able to prove that design creates desire and, ergo, sales success.
While industry awards and methods of measuring audience reach with
an ad campaign are all viable indicators of creative business
success, moving a product off shelf relies first and foremost on
the power of packaging design. It is tangible.
The following case study demonstrates how brand can leverage design
as an integral, and accountable, part of the brand marketing
Green & Black's was launched by a husband and wife team in
1991. The bittersweet cocoa taste and organic credentials had
instant niche appeal but the brand never progressed beyond a 1%
market share. Pearlfisher started work with the brand, in its
earliest days, at the end of the '90s. In 2002, Green & Black's
asked Pearlfisher to reposition it from a worthy brand to a luxury
and mainstream brand. The five-step creative brief said the
Pearlfisher created a strategically led visual identity. The dark
brown color clearly communicated intense flavor first, while the
gold typography of the logo acted as a cue to the brand's premium
status. Although still part of the logo, organic was now seen as a
supporting differentiation rather than a lead message. The shift of
emphasis gave the brand a clear product-led positioning that acted
as a solid foundation for all other activity.
The packaging design set the new strategy in motion and was the
inspiration for the advertising and PR campaigns with the images
used in those disciplines building on the style of the new
packaging, rather than the other way around. The advertising theme,
“Ah, that's what chocolate's supposed to taste like,” followed the
packaging stance that presented the essence of the brand as
intensity of taste.
Sales rose from £4.5m to £23m in 2004, and total sales of the
chocolate bars (70 percent of total brand sales last year) rose 400
percent since the relaunch period. The total Green & Black
brand now has a retail value of £50 million and, on a rolling MAT
basis, is growing at 50 percent year on year.
Beyond bars, the new packaging look was extended across the rest of
the product portfolio including ice cream, drinking chocolate,
biscuits and gift confectionery. Green & Black is now viewed as
a premium high-quality chocolate brand rather than just an organic
chocolate. Green & Black's marketing director, Mark Palmer, has
commented, “There is no doubt in my mind that the packaging design
has led the change and been the single biggest factor in the
growth, and the success in the UK has paved the way for a similarly
impressive entry into the U.S. market.” Sales in the United States
now represent 10 percent of the companies turnover. Indeed,
G&B's is actually the fastest-selling chocolate in leading
natural food stores such as Whole Foods Market.
In a country traditionally driven by advertising, such as the
United States, the way is wide open for packaging to become more
sophisticated and prominent, as it has done in the UK. Although
U.S. design managers and brand owners have a vast territorial area
within which to promote their brand message, regardless of
advertising, the ultimate purchasing decision is often made at
point of purchase. This point is where design can really hold its
own to create the point of differentiation. Indeed, this has been
emphasized over the last 5-10 years with a huge shift in where
brand owners are choosing to spend their money. It's not that the
above-the-line mass marketing and advertising is “dead,” clearly
not, but that the below-the-line stalwarts, such as design, are
increasingly making their presence felt in the marketing mix.Design for life
Brand owners need to take control by incorporating some of the
Brand managers can get ahead by anticipating, interpreting and
creating positive change through investment in packaging design as
a more integral, rather than isolated, part of their brand strategy
and brand vision.
Moving forward this holistic approach needs to be embraced by the
complete brand marketing team, including design and advertising,
with all disciplines working together from the start of the brand
creation process to create the most visually desirable brand
packaging solutions for the consumer and sustained financial growth
for the brand and the business long-term.
Time to put design at the top of the business agenda?
What do you do when graphic design gets too graphic? Barringer covers his kids' eyes and riffs on the perils of picking out movies at Blockbuster.
Section: Inspiration -
Voice, graphic design, packaging
Is it OK to be superficial? Cook argues that while aesthetics might not be considered a valid metric for measuring design’s success, beauty matters.
Section: Inspiration -
Voice, graphic design, packaging, product design, metrics of effectiveness
If instances of self-questioning about working in-house become a catalyst for self-doubt, why not redirect some of that energy toward constructive self-evaluation? We can’t count on having control over everything that affects our design careers, but we can establish focus, build accountability and develop a newfound sense of assurance about our professional trajectory in-house.
Section: Tools and Resources
MUSEY is a web-based and mobile-app solution that informs, educates and
creates new supporters of the arts. Users find art in their current
location in real-time, learn more about it and can become “spontaneous
micro-patrons” of the arts. Artists present their work to wider
audiences and fuel their projects financially.
Section: Tools and Resources -
Design for Good, interaction design, culture, social issues, digital media
Assistant or Associate Professor in Graphic Design, Tenure-trackDrexel University
Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaMarch 4 2015
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