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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.

Our packaging effectiveness playbook outlines the key ingredients for creating effective packaging designs; those which stand out on shelf, are instantly recognizable for the brand, and which ultimately get the product bought. But, in the pursuit of optimizing the final touchpoint in the shopper journey, it must be remembered that a packaging design is ultimately only one element of the marketing mix. Therefore, designing effective packaging starts with having a clearly defined brand strategy and set of branding guidelines in place, with all stakeholders involved in the design process being intimately familiar with them. From there, as much as possible of the brand’s DNA should be infused into the packaging design, with the goal of creating a completely synergistic brand experience for shoppers.

Whether it’s mass reach media, point-of-sale material, promotional activity, or social media content, when all elements of the marketing mix synergize with one another and ‘speak the same language’ it lessens the load on the packaging to do all the heavy lifting at shelf. A consistent experience also has a multiplier effect. More than just enhancing the speed and ease in which a brand is recognized at shelf, by leveraging distinctive visual properties it also helps activate memory structures. This can trigger emotional affinity and ultimately lead to a fast and instinctive decision to buy the brand.

A packaging design should embody the brand.

Across all points of communication, Swedish alternative milk brand Oatly adopts a uniform look and feel, featuring muted tones, stenciled patterns, and bold, in-your-face typography. Owned, earned, and paid channels all showcase the brand’s same cheeky and provocative tone of voice, helping craft a fun and irreverent personality. This has created the perception that Oatly is a small challenger brand and ‘underdog’ in consumers’ minds, even with its valuation peaking at a whopping 20 billion dollars in 2021.

Consistency plays an equally important role building identifiability as it does crafting motivating benefits.

Why is Oatly’s shopper strategy so effective? Firstly, relentless consistency has resulted in a clear and ownable set of branding properties being developed over time, thus aiding the brand’s recognizability at shelf. Secondly, consistency of positioning and messaging across touch points has solidified these associations in consumers’ minds, with Oatly continually reinforcing benefits around health and sustainability both on- and off-pack. This ultimately gives shoppers a final reminder at shelf as to why the brand is worth choosing over others.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Consistency - Oatly

Departing from a brand’s established personality can send mixed messages to shoppers.

M&M’s perhaps embodies consistency better than any other brand, with their colorful anthropomorphic ‘spokes-candies’ featured almost religiously across the brand’s communications (often replacing any explicit branding given how synonymous they’ve become). If you’re a regular reader of our marketing commentary, you’ll know the gushing praise we heap upon mascots/characters and their role in driving marketing success. It’s all because of their two-fold effect: Firstly, they act as an easy shortcut to the brand, and secondly, they elicit a strong and immediate emotional response.

However, M&M’s launched a limited-edition, all-female spokes-candies pack as a platform to make their position on gender equality known, following backlash to creative adjustments made to the female mascots. In the process, M&M’s showed exactly what not to do when you have such valuable assets at your disposal. Firstly, let’s put aside debate around whether a candy manufacturer (or any other brand for that matter) should be taking a position on political and social issues, or placing this front-and-center on their packaging.

The packaging depicted the characters turned upside down to symbolize the brand’s efforts to push for social change. As a result, people’s ability to easily spot the brand at shelf was hampered. Not only a function of the colors and characters being less recognizable, but the new packaging also saw the loss of the brand’s typically fun and light-hearted personality. The learning? You risk throwing shoppers off course by communicating in a manner inconsistent with what they’ve come to expect. This’ll be further compounded if your on-pack messaging is misaligned with consumers’ ‘Jobs To Be Done’.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Consistency - M&Ms

A new positioning counts for little if it doesn’t carry through to the in-store experience.

Of course, that isn’t to say a brand can’t ever alter its personality or positioning; so long as this carries through to every touchpoint, the packaging’s ability to do its job at shelf won’t be disrupted. A great example of a successful repositioning is Old Spice, who transformed their personality from dusty, outdated toiletries used exclusively by your dad and grandpa, to a stylish, sophisticated, and modern interpretation of masculinity. While many will fondly recall the iconic ‘man on a horse’ campaign that poked fun at the trope of male-centric toiletries, where the brand found real success was in the cool, suave, and irreverent personality which carried through to the in-store experience.

Old Spice’s debonair personality was reinforced through the use of stately colors: dark reds, creams, and blacks. However, it was the addition of on-pack callouts such as ‘smell like a man’, ‘swagger’, and ‘the scent of confidence’ that really drove home the playful personality first seeded through the brand’s above-the-line communications. What’s more, these callouts (along with other typically humorous and ‘on-brand’ copy) transformed Old Spice’s nautical image (now a stoic Clipper ship) into a tongue-in-cheek representation of the rugged, windswept man — aligning seamlessly with the shift in personality. With bold, distinctive typography exuding confidence and assertiveness, Old Spice’s packaging overhaul perfectly encapsulated the brand’s new dapper persona.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Consistency - Old Spice

Consistency is made easier by the brand having a clear positioning.

While creating and maintaining a consistent identity is a crucial factor behind brands which endure over the long-term, it's not just about the packaging — every touchpoint should speak the same language. Ben & Jerry's understands this better than most others, having built an identity for itself by, first and foremost, having a crystal-clear positioning (…and perhaps ‘purpose’). It then continually brings this to life through a colorful and fantastical aesthetic reflecting the brand’s playful and imaginative spirit. This fun, vibrant, and whimsical personality translates to all aspects of the brand, including its packaging, brick and mortar stores, social media, supermarket displays, and of course wacky flavors.

Although the premium ice-cream category has faced significant disruption over recent years (particularly from new entrants offering lower calorie and healthier alternatives), this strategy has helped Ben & Jerry’s weather the storm and continue to grow at an almost double-digit rate.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Consistency - Ben & Jerry's

The power of ‘Fresh Consistency’.

Consistency, when stripped back, is perhaps the simplest of our nine factors for winning at shelf, yet one where we often see missteps made. Given a shopper marketer’s ultimate objective is to make the brand as easy as possible to find and buy, this task is greatly helped by ensuring what happens at the point of purchase isn’t disconnected from wider marketing efforts. After all, a packaging design is the primary embodiment of the brand and an always-on broadcast to the world.

Understandably, designers are always looking to capitalize on the newest and most innovative trends to help brands break through the on-shelf clutter. However, with this comes the potential for consistency to be disrupted. By maintaining a seamless link between a packaging design and supporting branding efforts, marketers can ensure the brand’s role as a visual signpost at shelf isn’t hindered. With a brand’s DNA flowing through the veins of its packaging design, marketers increase the odds of the product getting into shoppers’ trolleys.

Not sure whether your packaging design is being infused with as much of the brand’s personality as possible, resulting in suboptimal outcomes at shelf? 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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