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The Packaging Effectiveness Playbook


We’ve taken the empirical evidence and established learnings from the behavioral sciences and combined it together with our decade of global testing experience to produce the Packaging Effectiveness Playbook: The 9 secrets to designing packaging that wins at shelf and unleashes shopper growth.

Packaging designs which successfully nudge shoppers at shelf have one thing in common: congruency. It goes without saying that one of a packing design’s most important roles is to solidify the decision to buy a product. Once a shopper’s attention has been captured and they’ve recognized who the brand is, packaging must communicate the brand’s promise with crystal clear clarity — ultimately moving the product from shelf to shopping basket.

But this is (obviously) much easier said than done! Brands stand a better chance of success when packaging delivers a cohesive sensory experience; one which shapes and enhances the brand’s desired identity in shoppers’ minds. This is where the power of congruency comes to the fore. By ensuring all packaging elements jive with one another it creates a multiplier effect, reinforcing that the brand represents a credible way to solve shoppers’ ‘jobs to be done’ (and subsequently motivating behavior). Conversely, when design elements don’t ‘speak the same language’ it creates a disconnect, diluting the associations seeded in shoppers’ minds and detracting from its likelihood to be chosen.

Color/Design: Congruent visual elements help clarify the value proposition.

Packaging plays a key role in reinforcing a brand’s positioning as an economy, mainstream, or premium offering. Take luxury brands: whether it’s through dark colors, metallics (gold, silver, bronze, platinum), quality seals, gloss finishes, and embossing — or even unique materials, shapes/structures, and textures — a multitude of creative devices can be used to communicate a product’s ‘high-end’ credentials. Australian ice cream brand Connoisseur leverages many of these mechanisms, including classically dark and rich colors, together with high contrast artistic imagery. This not only delivers on the goal of creating a powerful shelf block and enabling easy variant navigation, but it also whets shoppers’ appetite, evoking luxury with every heavenly scoop of ice cream.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Connoisseur

On the flip side, that design elements ‘speak the same language’ is just as relevant whether you’re a premium, mainstream, or value player. Australian store/home brand Black & Gold effectively communicates their no frills, value-for-money positioning by utilizing a simple yellow color foundation, bold typography (which does little more than communicate the pack’s contents), together with a minimalistic visual layout. All-in-all the range is easy to recognize, easy to navigate, and most importantly clearly conveys the brand’s penny saving proposition.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency -Black & Gold

While the jury’s out on the brand’s actual better-for-you credentials, Nature Valley muesli bars certainly put on a masterclass in pulling on all the right levers to cue healthy snacking connotations. While the green textured backdrop does a lot of the heavy lifting and immediately screams ‘natural’, this is further enhanced by the lockup being set on carved timber, the prominent depiction of earthy and raw ingredient imagery, together with callouts to the product’s ‘100% wholegrain’ composition.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Nature Valley

The packaging design of U.K. tea brand Pukka features colorful, intricate patterns, conveying fun, playfulness, and luxury. Furthermore, the pastel tapestry and subcontinental typography also cues exotic connotations, triggering mystique around the product’s origins. This creates an evocative sensory experience, tapping into important need states when shoppers are seeking a tea brand suitable for special occasions.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Pukka

Another packaging design which unifies multiple visual elements to amplify the associations conveyed is Irish butter brand Kerry Gold. The unique lockup does a lot of the heavy lifting, featuring lush green pastures, a cute cow, and distinctive Celtic typography. These elements are well renowned across the Emerald Isle and help unmistakably link the product to its Irish roots. In addition, the contrasting gold foundation leaves people in little doubt that it’s a premium quality product.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Kerry Gold

Shape/Structure: A pack’s form and structure can implicitly convey what written claims often cannot.

While colors and visuals can be particularly effective levers for achieving congruency, structural elements play an equally — if not more — important role. Take Gatorade, whose bright and energetic flavors (visible through the transparent bottle) signal energy and sustenance. However, it’s the product’s ‘easy to grip’ bottle which really cements the brand’s standing as the choice of sportspeople, complimenting visual cues to strengthen health and fitness credentials.

Conversely, Coca-Cola’s Vitaminwater launched an ‘Active’ range in 2018, attempting to capitalize on the burgeoning functional beverages category. The product aimed to balance the brand’s established health credentials with the hydration benefits sought by casual exercisers. The latter associations were subtly reinforced through the hourglass packaging form; however, a lack of synergy between masterbrand perceptions and those seeded by the packaging design resulted in a muddled proposition. This played a role in the product’s subpar performance and eventual discontinuation after only a short time in market.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Gatorade & Vitaminwater Active

Unlike the more traditional formats adopted by other dark spirit brands, St Agnes Cognac comes in an elegant, curvaceous, potion-like bottle. It’s finished with a metallic seal and embossing. These elements help position the product as a vintage, luxurious, and overall ‘special’ drop. The final icing on the cake is the bottle’s housing in a velvet lined box, ultimately making for an unforgettable customer experience.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - St Agnes Cognac

Lunchables’ recent packaging overhaul delivers both form and function, being developed specifically with the brand’s end consumer in mind — children. Compartmentalizing the ingredients not only makes consuming the snack easier, but it also adds to the fun and novelty of the experience for young children. This is reinforced by bright and playful visuals which work together with the format to enhance the brand’s laidback and approachable personality.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Lunchables
Read the Lunchables case study

Materials: The materials chosen must harmonize with both the value proposition and desired positioning.

We speak at length in our sustainability chapter about shoppers’ increasing desire to make environmentally responsible packaging choices. Cheerios’ Organic variant leveraged a number of the ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ cues we touched on earlier in an effort to distinguish their new offering. Green callouts and environmental cues — bees, leaves, and flowers — all helped reinforce the product’s better-for-you credentials. But to top it all off the materials chosen were specifically designed to have a lower environmental impact, being visually brought to life through a raw, rustic, and earthy cardboard texture.

The impact of design elements (callouts, imagery, iconography, colors, etc.) is enhanced when they harmonize with structural elements (including the materials chosen, but also the shape/orientation, etc.). Therefore, if one or more elements aren’t synergistic (such as cheap feeling materials or a flat material texture for a premium product), it risks creating a disconnect and consequently prompting doubt in shoppers’ minds: “Is it really worth the asking price?”. With shopper marketing all about facilitating fast and intuitive purchase decisions (in an effort to avoid shoppers second guessing themselves and consciously deliberating choices), congruency plays a critical role for creating packaging designs which lead to brands getting chosen.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Cheerios Organic

Congruency can also help distinguish various sub-brands under the same umbrella.

Shaving giant Gillette has numerous sub-brands serving different market needs, ranging from uber-premium to everyday value. How does Gillette communicate the space occupied by each of these to busy shoppers? Through changing up the packaging’s look, feel, shape, and structure — of course! Starting first with economy brand Gillette Blue, the packaging design features a solid blue backdrop and comes in a no-frills plastic bag. Often making use of ‘violators’ to further reinforce the product’s great value, it clearly communicates to shoppers that it’s a cheap and disposable — but cost-effective — solution.

Gillette Fusion, the iconic mid-level razor, comes encased in a sturdy clamshell package featuring a modern, duotone aesthetic designed to reflect its cutting-edge technology. In comparison the more luxurious King C. Gillette, the ‘ultimate’ in men’s grooming, replaces the vibrant color scheme with a stately foundation of navy blues and bronzes, together with a sturdier cardboard box construction. The elegant lockup further bolsters premium credentials by referencing the brand’s long heritage. It’s a reminder that both design elements and materials must be carefully chosen so that they complement one another, thus facilitating the clear and unencumbered transmission of a brand’s desired positioning.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Congruency - Gilette ranges

Is a lack of packaging congruency sending shoppers mixed messages about the product? Are behavioral outcomes suboptimal as a result? Get in touch to speak to a consultant about our packaging testing solution. Expert-led, evidence-based insights — which don’t break the bank.

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