How does your job fit into the advertising process? I work mainly on packaging design as it relates to the
brand’s global identity. Generally, brands come to design agencies because they either want to overhaul or refresh their identity.
I receive the brief from either the commercial team or directly from the client. From there, I like to rewrite the brief to make sure I fully understand what the client wants before I begin working on the answer. This allows me to note the most important words in the brief as a reference point.
Then I work with a team of strategic planners, art directors, copywriters, and other graphic designers to come up with a solution that meets the client’s objectives.
I begin by looking at all of the packaging ever used by the brand as well as their competitors. What colors, symbols, and shapes do they use? Why? What does it mean? Etc. This allows me to get an overview of how the industry has defined itself, and what packaging conventions I could work on to differentiate the brand from its competitors.
Once I have a general idea I get my rough draft down on paper. It’s wiser to design your rough draft with a pencil and paper before moving on to Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign. This is because drawing freehand is so much less constraining than working with software.
Design agencies usually show the client three different variations of a proposed packaging design:
- Slight modifications made to their current package design to refresh it.
- Major modifications made to their current package design.
- A completely original idea unrelated to anything the brand or industry has ever seen before. Clients rarely choos this option, however they are always curious to see what it would look like.
After this initial meeting, the client will have the first round of ideas and changes to be made. So we take those requests and begin perfecting the package design.
In the time the client gives us to present the final draft, I may exchange emails and telephone calls with the client +30 times, each time making minor changes in color, typography, logo size, element placement, etc.
Once the client signs off on the final package design, we create the digital files necessary for the printer to begin mass producing the new packaging design.
Is it possible that a product packaging redesign can save a failing brand? It’s possible. Lucky Stike Cigarettes in the 1960s packaging seemed to be made for old people. A strategic packaging redesign opened up the market to a generation of younger smokers.
Would it be wiser to focus my budget on package design or advertising? Tricky question.Your competitors probably spend a lot of money on advertising, and it’s possible that your ‘disruptive’ package may catch the consumer’s eye and they may even pick it up out of sheer curiosity. You may even lure them into purchasing your product instead.
But product design cannot replace advertising, and the chance that consumers will actually choose your product over their usual product purchase is rare. This is partly due to the fact that most consumers simply purchase what they’re familiar with; the brands and products they have ‘always bought before’- and they really need an incentive to change their habits and try something new.
You cannot bet the future of your business on making your packaging different or more appealing hoping it will be enough. Advertising does need to be a part of your branding strategy so that by the time consumers find themselves in that ‘moment of truth’ moment at the point of purchase with what they always buy in on hand and your product in the other; they already have at least some prior experience with your brand.
Meaning if you are competing in an industry where consumers are known to have a high level of brand loyalty, for example carbonated beverages, you cannot compete by advertising or creating a truly unique package design. Instead, you must be innovative.
[EDITORS NOTE: “No one is going to eagerly adapt your product. The vast majority of consumers are happy. Stuck. Sold on what they’ve got. They’re not looking for a replacement, and they don’t like adapting to anything new. You don’t have the power to force them to.” Purple Cow by Seth Godin]
Take Red Bull for example. At the beginning nobody knew of Red Bull. So Red Bull began giving away free cans at universities. More and more students began talking about it and Red Bull grew and grew, especially through social media. They didn’t pay for advertising. Instead, they made a cool product, put it in an eye catching package and gave it away for free at the right place and let word of mouth do their advertising for them. It was so successful that Coca-Cola’s began to see Red Bull as a threat!
With a different package design, people will talk about it more. Just like that a little brand can be in competition with a global leader.
To summarize, smaller businesses cannot and should not use the same package branding design strategy as big brands. If you’re a new company, then top priority is visibility.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: “A US study found that with ads reflecting the category style that for every $9 spent, $5 goes to the brand and $4 goes to the category leader. The risk of using your company’s hard-earned dollars to subsidize the competition.” 22 Irrefutable Laws of Advertising: And When to Violate Them]
Some packages such as toothpaste all look the same. How can brands differentiate? Industries where the packaging design is nearly identical (the box dimensions or sizes) is likely due to supplier limitations or governmental regulations or maybe that all of the ‘competing’ products are actually owned by the same parent company who find it more economical to print a universal box for all their products. Whatever it may be, if you can differentiate your brand with package design, you should by all means. But if your package cannot be redesigned to be distinguished from your competitors, then you’ll have to differentiate yourself in other ways.
This is where brands invest in in-store and point-of-sale ambient advertising such as hanging posters and pop-ups. With pop-ups, they have to be built so that:
1.) They can be conveniently folded for easy shipping to the store locations, and
2.) They have to be easy to unfold and set up by store clerks who don’t have a lot of time and may not even have the instruction manual to set it up! It has to practically set itself up. If the clerks and suppliers at the end of the line cannot put it together, then it will end up in the trash and all that time and advertising potential at the point of sale – arguably the most important part of the advertising process since that is where the consumer has the ‘moment of truth’ on what they are going to purchase – is wasted. You must take all of this into consideration.
What advice do you have on refreshing a package? Larger brands generally want increased visibility without compromising the brand identity they worked so hard to build. They want to their packaging refreshed in such a way that it attracts new clients without losing the clients that are already loyal to them.
This involves walking a thin line. Modifying the package design is no small matter, typical product redesigns can take upwards of three months to do, with a lot of meetings and email exchanges with the client.
When refreshing your brand image, this normally doesn’t mean a radical departure from your already existing product design; it usually involves updating the photography used on the packaging and reorganizing the information that is already included on the package. You want the product to appear new so it attracts new consumers without scaring your already loyal customers with a package they no longer recognize, thinking that their favorite brand has completely changed.
Large brands may refresh their packaging every 2-3 years. Startups and small businesses generally need their brand identity (re)created from scratch, and this can happen every 10 years. Their budget is also limited so the work we do for small businesses is critical!
Sometimes in the normal course of business some brands create a new format or change the size of their products (example: when Coca-Cola introduced the mini 7.5 ounce Coca-Cola version of their 12 ounce standard cans. This means that new packaging has to be made to accommodate the larger or smaller product sizes or to cater to the constraints or demands of their new supplier.
What can some basic rules about package design?
1). Be creative in how you differenciate yourself from your competitors.
2.) Package design has to fit the price. If there is any incongruence between the price of the product and its perceived value, the consumer will notice the inconsistency and probably won’t take the risk.
3.) It’s important to understand the history of typography. Not every graphic designer knows this, but it’s very important because typography evolves alongside technology, and the shape of typography is created by technology. We now have millions of different types, but not all of them are good.
Where do you go to find good typography? I find fonts on Myfonts.com. They aren’t free, but a good typography is worth its price.
Typography is like a picture. It’s necessary to buy it if you plan to use it commercially. A lot of people think typography is free, but somebody created that typography, and if you use somebody else’s creation without the owner’s expressed permission, you’re at risk for copyright infringement, just like if you use someone else’s picture or music without permission.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on copyright infrigement, watch the talk Copy, Cut, Paste by Andy Baio.]
What are some websites do you recommend? For design, I like:
What are some misconceptions brands commonly have about packaging design? That packaging design is easy and faster to do with today’s technology. Yes, in two minutes we could change the color, but colors have meanings and competitors use certain colors and color combinations for very important branding reasons.
Secondly, some brands believe that a design agency’s advice on how the brand should change their packaging is subjective. This is why brands usually run their new packaging through rigorous consumer testing to make sure the numbers add up.
Thirdly, brands don’t normally launch a new packaging redesign without simultaneously launching a corresponding advertising campaign. This can make the success of the package redesign difficult to measure. You may have a great package redesign that was accompanied by a bad advertising campaign, or you may have a bad package redesign that was accompanied by a good accompanying advertising campaign. In both these cases you don’t know how the consumers are going to react.
Therefore it’s preferable that the same agency that creates the package redesign also creates the advertising campaign.
I want to design my product package with a small budget, any advice? There are two types of product packaging:
1) To protect your product during shipping and handling and is then thrown into the trash. This is 90% of the packaging out there today.
2) The other type of packaging is for decoration that you want to keep – a bottle of tea that you’ll reuse to put more tea into afterwards because it looks beautiful in your kitchen and you needed somewhere to put your tea anyway.
Instead of creating a package that is simply thrown into the trash afterwards, use your budget to devise a package that can have a life beyond that of simply protecting your product until the consumer opens it. Preferably something that would look good on a bookshelf or somewhere in the consumer’s house where friends and family can find it and ask about it.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Tootsie Rolls turned their packages into little piggy banks for children so that after all the candy had been eaten, you could put your money in it and save up.]
There are many books available that offer hundreds of cut-out package foldable models of packages that already exist. Find a handful of package models that you like and use them to create your own unique package design, and then figure out how to color and design it. Find a package you like? Very carefully disassemble it to see what it looks like when you unfold it.
Lastly, quality advertising agencies see their contract with a client as a relationship. Meaning, if you come to us with a small budget but with an idea we believe in, good agencies will be willing to work within your constraints as best they can because they believe in your brand, and because the value of their relationship with you will come to fruit in other ways, such as creating an award winning campaign or the chance to be on the ground floor of the next big viral brand.