Did you know that the first thermoplastic was a compound created from nitrocellulose and camphor? The two first brands being used were Parkesine and Xylonite until Celluloid was registered in 1869 in Newark, New Jersey. It was first used as a replacement for ivory. Well, that’s a long time ago and if there is one material which has constantly been improved with time, it is certainly plastic, in any form or composition. We have polyethene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, etc. basically developed from crude oil.
The famous words by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev have to be mentioned here. He said: “burning petroleum is as stupid as firing up a kitchen stove with bank notes”. Yes, it is far better to use the world’s resources or crude oil to make plastics than to heat, drive cars, etc.!
As I’m not a scientist, nor a packaging technologist, I will here only deal with the enormous utility of plastics to communicate, or rather let the product do so, as most plastics used are transparent.
We all know by now that the main advantage of plastic as a packaging material is that it is light. And were it not that so much plastics end up in the nature, I’m sure that our shopping bags in plastic would have less impact on the environment than the heavier paper version.
I will not enter the ongoing discussion about recycling, as it is just common sense to recycle plastics of a certain weight, while thin plastic films help our incinerators to be more efficient!
We can get fantastic results when the marketing and the technical services meet. I believe that the recent Coca-Cola plastic BOPP label that turned into a great ribbon or bow tie was just great! Just a pity it didn’t work each time.
Some brands would, in my opinion, not have existed, were it not for the plastic material. I think of Tic Tac, Mon Chéri or Ferrero Rocher. Plastic bottles are no doubt superior to glass when handled by kids, so we see for instance a lot of plastic ketchup bottles.
What would the whole chips industry be without plastic bags, whether aluminised or not. Most PET bottles have now labels in the same material. This is logical when you think of recycling.
But most of all, I think that plastics are best when combined with paper, cardboard, etc. to obtain see through windows, as consumers wish to see what they purchase.
One of my biggest learning during my years at Nestlé was no doubt the possibility to embrace any material, as from a communication point of view, the material often says more than a text or an image. Long live plastics!
Brand vs. Company in the food and drink world
I’ve had the great advantage and pleasure to work for almost 40 years for Nestlé. During that time, I have regularly been asked to explain the difference between a brand and a company or, in other words, between a product brand and a corporation.
As any marketeer well knows, brands in general can be classified in categories and companies use different terminologies such as
- sub brand
- product brand
- range brand
- corporate brand
- strategic brand
- descriptive brand
- endorsing brand, etc.
They appear on the front as logotypes and can be of various sizes or strength.
Any marketeer also knows the difference between the two brand approaches:
a) Nestlé or Unilever, for instance, often use a corporate and a product brand, ex. Mousline from Maggi (dual branding);
b) Mars never use a corporate brand (single branding).
The reason why I write this article is that I found, the other day, a very interesting example: Tetley tea from TATA GOBAL BEVERAGES with Tetley as a logotype on the front and TATA both as a corporate logotype and the product division “TATA GLOBAL BEVERAGES” on the back. This makes me believe that the management at TATA, as well as (to a certain extent) Nestlé and Unilever have not yet found the best balance between a product brand and the company behind it (see later).
I’d like to explain that a product brand which in the consumer’s eye is a creation to express a certain positioning stands, in this case, for taste, but it can also stand for other product experiences such as crunchy, salty, sweet, i.e. real values and perceived values like young (Coca-Cola) fashionable (Innocent) or extreme (Red Bull).
However, a corporate identity, showing the company behind a brand as for instance Nestlé with their nest symbol and TATA with their “T” symbol stand for values such as trust, quality, local, global, i.e. values which can be both real or perceived and different to the above product values.
In the years to come, I hope we will no doubt see a stronger and explanatory information of the company on the back panel (avoiding complicated dual or triple branding on the front), as consumers want to know who is behind a certain brand and which values this company has. No doubt Nestlé will increase their nest and explain what “nutrition, health and wellness” mean and Unilever their “U” also explaining to the consumers what their company believes in.
Why do I say this today, when it is so obvious in modern marketing and brand building? Well, it looks as if many of my colleagues in marketing seem to have forgotten this element, especially in advertising, be it print, TV or even outdoor.
The reason I bring it up today is that Ford has recently had two campaigns for their GT and Mustang cars, creating two ads I just couldn’t miss, although I’m not a car aficionado.
In this context, it is worth questioning why so few advertisers use the full TV screen in their communication. That is why I give you here a Coca-Cola ad which, in its simplicity, communicates
- strong branding
- maximum appetite appeal and no other elements! In other words, back to basics.
As this site is mostly about packaging, I profit to mention the latest Schweppes ad which shows
a) only the interesting part of the pack, i.e. the bottle
b) the bottle open, i.e. the ‘taste’ is let out
c) very little text
d) a layout with a bull’s eye effect
e) highest contrasting colours, blue vs. yellow for maximal impact.
X X X
I’d like to sum up this article with an advice I got around 1970 at a design conference in London by the man who, at that time, was one of the world’s leading designers, Irv Koons. He said: “When you have finished your design, then make your brand 20% bigger!”
That’s a pity, as many packages are in fact very good from a practical (handling), as well as from an aesthetical and informative point of view.
Why is it so? Well, we forget very quickly something that works, while something that does not work is negative and stays longer in our brain.
When teaching as I do, with actual examples, I always carry with me the French cheese cubes Apéricubes to prove to my audience that if you really want an opening device to function EVERY TIME, it’s possible! I don’t know how many millions or billions cubes are wrapped each day, but I’m sure they ALL function!
I believe that if top management decides that their products/packs should be easy to open, it’s possible!
The reason why it is still so bad (and yes, it is!), especially with some lids, bottle caps, sliced cheese or ham sachets, etc. is that the responsibility in the company falls between two chairs: marketing (who does not have easy opening high on their priority list) and production (who wants it to be as less costly as possible).
With this article, I just hope some companies will wake up and give what the consumers want… easy openings!
YES… finally I see what I have been preaching for more than ten years: some companies have started to sell their multipacks, trays, shippers or outer cartons with a message, as a means of advertising!
The new Emmi Caffè Latte trays are good examples. But S.Pellegrino’s latest 6-packs, although of promotional character, show how to use the bigger surface of a secondary package for a MESSAGE!
I believe the industry or rather the brand managers have understood that a sales message can be more efficient than a logotype. A skillful call-to-action can trigger sales better than just a logotype. Maybe more pack design agencies have also discovered that a good copywriter is a must, next to the graphic designer, unless the latter masters words which I think is seldom the case.
It will be interesting to see what will happen in the coming months…
As I go through airports and their various shops and as I discuss design with different designers, one thing strikes me more than anything else: the pack designs could be so much more efficient if the designer were more attentive to the fact that the main role of pack design is to sell a product and not a design!
In our profession dealing with art and the aesthetical side of communication, we are often tempted to put more importance on the design as such, forgetting that we are in the business of SELLING A PRODUCT. Our main task is to try to convince a consumer to buy a given product and not necessarily through high aesthetics. This means that the USP, the RTB or maximal appetite appeal must explain why this product deserves to be bought more than another.
The best way to do that is to show the product and it is here things often go wrong! I’m convinced that, if the Portuguese chocolate bar recently bought in Porto would also show chocolate (and had better expressed that it is dark), sales would increase.
I also believe that if the two Albert Ménès packs had shown small illustrations as Duc d’O, they would sell more.
This being said, there are products packed in what I would call ‘category design’ like for instance sardines where I would make an exception, as the illustration would most likely have no influence on purchase. The same can be said about certain sweets, when the type of pack (here a tin) will not allow for a high resolution illustration.
If the “Bonne Maman” tin is, in my opinion, both good communication and good art, I believe that the bag-in-box wine SMART DOG would have gained having somewhere a reference to wine.
The point I’m trying to make is: don’t sell design, sell a product, or why not both, as Italian pack designs very often do!
When I write these lines, the EUROFOOT has started and the shops are full of promotional packs from Heineken beer to Panini stickers.
I like promotions, especially if the promotional pack is different to the standard one or when an offer looks like a bargain which is obviously the case with “lot de 2 pots”… so far so good.
However, when analysing these promotional packs, one quickly realises what is happening today in many FMCG companies. Instead of cleaning out the packs from unnecessary information in order to make space for the promotion, the brand manager just adds the promotional copy or illustration somewhere in such a way that the design looks like a dog’s dinner!
A great opportunity has been missed and that is very clear on both the “Knacki Football” and the “Apéricube, les saveurs des supporters”.
I imagine what a great design it could have been if, on the Knacki, the footballs had been highlighted by putting the structured balls in the foreground!
Same comments for the Apéricubes where the cubes do have good questions (though no flags), but nothing highlighted to catch the shopper’s eyes.
As I love to analyse and see how ‘bad’ design can be turned into something more exciting, I did an exercise with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk €1 pack with the great idea of using the “&” sign to highlight the two flavours “fruit & nut”. As it is about taste and chocolate, why not amplify the “&” sign which
- makes the pack look bigger
- has more chocolate taste
- has more fruit & nut
still maintaining a strong Dairy Milk identity!
This is just an exercise to explain how to go from bad to good… a professional designer could certainly take it to excellent. But for this exercise, one can of course not stick to hampering guidelines!
I grew up on a farm on the west coast of Sweden and my father who was an agronomist used to say: you can eat and drink a little of everything and you’ll be fine. How right he was! He even said a little bit of dirt won’t harm you, it will produce antibodies! That is why small packs are so interesting!
Back in my head, I always hear his words about “a little” and I think that it is only now we, in the western world, have understood that we have to consume less. Thus the present trend for mini packages.
I love Coca-Cola and used to drink the 330ml can a bit too often, but nowadays, I realise that I’m perfectly happy with a small 150ml can, turning to water for bigger thirsts.
As I can see, I’m not the only one who prefers small portions, as the industry seems to take this consumer group seriously, offering a lot of single serve packs.
A couple of years ago, I was quoted in an article where I said “we don’t need less, we need more packaging” for which I was criticized, but I think time has proven I was right. When I said “more”, I obviously thought of small, good packages, from a material, ergonomic and communication point of view. Not more bad packages!
Here are my advice when you develop smaller units which, in most cases, are sold as multi packs:
1. The smaller the pack, the bigger the brand.
2. You have to be ruthless when it comes to the quantity of information and move to the back (or the sides) information of lesser value to the consumer.
3. In my opinion, the addition of the word “mini” is questionable, unless it has a positive connotation as for instance less calories. The consumer sees that it is a smaller version!
4. When designing the multi pack, forget the (total) net weight and concentrate on the number of small units.
5. Try to develop an RTB for this smaller size pack, as the word “mini” says nothing about the product. A well understood message would be: “Big taste, but fewer calories” or “Fits your pocket and your stomach”.
6. Avoid a too elaborate product denomination and just have the above RTB.
7. Design a special and unique multi pack and, if possible, with a secondary use as the Mars tray that turns into a serving plate.
8. Find a good balance between making your multi pack as small as possible (less material, more ecological, etc.) and looking as big as possible to be seen on the shelf.
9. Never ever design the small version looking different from the original pack!
10. Try to sell this smaller version through other distribution channels!
I would believe that, in today’s supermarkets, at least 30% of all products, packed or unpacked, are sold with some sort of promotion, mainly relating to price. Many books have been written about the efficiency of promotional activities. I will therefore not discuss the subject in depth. I will just quote, as an introduction, whoever said once “If you offer more than what is expected, the consumer will always come back”. It’s about a certain generosity, a word I do not often hear when I work with FMCG companies!
There are mainly 2 types of promotions involving packages:
1. On-pack promotions as a price offer or something free;
2. Combining two products that enhance each other, i.e.
- too different packs;
- a pack and a fresh unpacked product (mayonnaise and asparagus)
- a packed product plus, for instance, a tool or any other gift;
- a pack that turns into something else and can be saved, like a tin, etc.
There are numerous possibilities, all you need is a little bit of creativity!
Here is what you specially have to think about when developing a promotion involving a pack:
- Don’t forget the positioning of your brand. A promotion is a great opportunity to reinforce the positioning;
- Keep your message simple and make it engaging;
- Create an integrated campaign. On-pack promotions are mostly accompanied by off-pack campaigns to have a real impact;
- Build an in-store display that highlights your offer and don’t forget, products are here more important than brands;
- Remember who is buying… and who is consuming… not always the same person!
- Be brave! If you don’t surprise, you do nothing! Soft promotions don’t exist!
- Make it a memorable experience. Promotions are about brand building!
- Don’t waste a lot of text, so make it
If you ‘google’ SIGNAL toothpaste, you’ll find 41 varieties of the product. It is therefore no surprise that a shelf in a Carrefour shop in France looks like this:
Why this confusing multitude? Because the marketing department knows that the more varieties, the more shelf space will be obtained. If so, why then such bad communication to the consumer? As I have written many times on www.packagingsense.com, neither the brand managers, nor the package design companies, seem to tackle this problem seriously. The point is to find the right hierarchy so the consumer INSTANTLY finds the appropriate product.
This is a matter of giving each individual product a genuine and unique identity, still maintaining a strong SIGNAL brand identity.
Is this possible? Yes, if the designer uses the right tools:
- unique descriptive denominations
- colour coding, but never more than 4 colours
and this not only on the primary package, but also on the tray, display unit, advertising (on/off line) and whatever other media being used.
This is a typical TEAMWORK:… from the purchasing department who probably deals with the outer cartons to the promotional team that sells “3 for the price of 2”. Who should be responsible? Well, the brand manager, the name says it.
By the way, some other categories like deodorants are not much better. Do you INSTANTLY understand the difference between the 4 L’Oréal Men Expert that have the following messages:
- antiperspirant vs. deodorant
- thermic resistant 45°
- 48h freshness longlasting auto-reactivated
- 96h non-stop
- 5 in 1, total protection 48h
- Carbon protect
- Cool power
- Focus spray
- Perfume ice fresh
- Woody force perfume
- Perfume fresh mint
- Perfume clean cool
Conclusion: As I believe we’ll have to live with more and more line extensions and not really new inventions, I would suggest that the industry finds a new UNDERSTANDABLE way to communicate. The actual system does not seem to work in the interest of the consumers.
By the way, why do the 4 spray cans have so many different colours? There seems to be no consistency which would help the consumer to choose the product.
It seems there is no methodical thinking behind.
And I bet that when a new brand manager takes over this range, there will be yet a different ‘solution’ which will, once more, leave the consumer puzzled in front of the shelf!