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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.

Savvy marketers avoid falling into the trap of thinking packaging design is all about wrapping their product in a pretty, colorful bow. Getting noticed at shelf is undeniably important to a product’s success, and our packaging effectiveness playbook outlines the key levers at a marketers’ disposal for achieving this: originality, color, and emotion.

However, equally important to getting the product into shopping carts is ensuring the packaging design is unmistakably for you, and you only. Given shoppers take only a matter of seconds to identify and decide what they’re going to buy at shelf, the quicker the brand is seen and recognized, the more likely it is to be bought.

While the consistent deployment of visual properties aids recognition and speeds up decision making, a more radical departure in aesthetic could signal new or enhanced benefits (something we cover in our originality chapter). Therefore, identifying what balance is right for a brand requires many layers to be unpacked.

There’s comfort in the familiar.

Humans gravitate toward the familiar. When faced with choice, what’s known gets chosen. Our ‘lazy’ System 1 brain assigns a greater level of trust and importance to things it’s familiar with, connecting with our feelings to signal that something represents a good choice.

What does this mean for marketers? Well, when undertaking a packaging redesign, brands must be careful to ensure the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bathwater. It’s crucial that a packaging design’s most familiar and recognizable elements are kept intact, being thoughtfully evolved rather than indiscriminately overhauled. This ensures shoppers’ automatic ‘search and grab’ routine isn’t disrupted, and the brand remains easy to find and buy.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Familiarity

Don’t interrupt established buying patterns.

Autopilot’ is an apt way to describe shopper behavior when navigating cluttered supermarket aisles, with little time spent consciously deliberating choices. Therefore, the odds of being chosen are in your favor if you’re seen (i.e. stand out) and recognized (i.e. look like you).

Perhaps the best way to make this point is through demonstrating how quickly it can all go awry, with no better example than Tropicana's now infamous redesign.

The 2009 refresh completely dispensed of the brand’s entrenched design cues. In the process it didn’t just disrupt automatic shopping routines, but completely obliterated them. With the brand’s visual identity and information hierarchy overhauled, the design consequently felt generic. But worse than that, shoppers couldn’t recognize it on shelf any longer — glossing over the brand entirely when confronted with the wall of juice brands in supermarket refrigerators.

Shoppers were instead left to investigate alternatives and sales of Tropicana consequently plummeted overnight. Upon realizing the full gravity of their mistake, PepsiCo hastily reinstated the original design. Beyond embarrassment and reputational damage, the total cost of this ill-advised undertaking? Approximately 50 million dollars.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Familiarity - Tropicana

Thoughtful, considered evolution should be the marketing mantra.

These insights aren’t to suggest brands shouldn’t ever alter their packaging design. Much to the contrary: evolving your packaging — like all other elements of the brand experience — is essential to maintain relevance and endure over the long-term. However, it must be approached with a level of caution, due diligence, and — of course — consumer testing!

How do we effectively tweak a design without overstepping the mark? What impact will a design alteration have on shoppers’ likelihood to choose the brand? How far can we go without alienating loyal consumers? There’s a fine line between refreshing your look and feel and becoming completely unrecognizable.

Cadbury Old Gold is an iconic Australian dark chocolate brand, having existed since 1916. However, its packaging aesthetic started feeling like it hadn’t been altered in the 100-odd years since its inception. Research supported this, with consumers describing the packaging as stale and tired — exacerbated by the broader chocolate aisle undergoing rapid premiumization. This consequently detracted from perceptions of the product itself.

Cadbury saw the writing on the wall and in 2020 refreshed the heritage brand’s packaging. The new version, produced by U.K. design agency Bulletproof, delivered a more vibrant, exciting, and contemporary aesthetic. Crucially, this was achieved without detracting from the pack’s shelf stand out and recognizability.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Familiarity - Cadbury Old Gold
Read the Cadbury Old Gold case study

Maintain your pack’s most identifiable assets.

An essential first step in any packaging evolution is quantifying what the packaging’s most distinctive elements are, whether it be logo placement, information hierarchy, colors, imagery, iconography, typography, etc. This is best done by speaking to consumers and testing the existing packaging design — ideally before any redesign work is undertaken, but at latest in parallel with it.

Redeploying a pack’s most recognizable elements in a thoughtful, considered, and respectful manner is crucial for success. This helps ensure even the most radical of overhauls can sometimes only result in minimal disruption to shoppers’ ability to find the product at shelf.

In 2021 it was Orbit/Extra Gum’s turn to refresh its packaging and wider branding. However, being the clever marketers that they are down at Mars Wrigley, protecting the equity built up by the brand over the years was made a high priority. The redesign saw key assets ‘flattened’ (following in the footsteps of many other ‘digital first’ brands these days) along with a number of other subtle creative modifications. Thoughtful evolution resulted in the new packaging design remaining as ubiquitous with the brand as its predecessor.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Familiarity - Extra Gum
Read the Orbit/Extra case study

Breaking the rules can work, so long as you have a plan for managing the inevitable barriers.

Brand familiarity is different to category familiarity. While adherence to category conventions enables the proposition to be quickly and fluently processed by shoppers, disrupting the status quo and adopting a unique packaging design can help elevate it above the ‘sea of sameness’. Over time, this has the potential to morph into a distinctive property, while also introducing new benefits/advantages that didn’t previously exist — giving shoppers a reason to reappraise the brand.

U.K. bread manufacturer Bürgen is a brand which went down this route, flipping the bread aisle on its head by dropping the transparent plastic film wrap and instead replacing it with a windowless Kraft paper bag exterior. This was accompanied by a complete overhaul of its brand aesthetic, including logo. The outcome? A more effective packaging design. The learning? No single variable will make or break a packaging design’s success.

While we strongly advocate not making it harder for shoppers to find the brand, marketers can sometimes have little choice in the matter. If sluggish sales and subsequent retailer pressure dictates throwing caution to the wind, then we suggest turning to the 3Cs — Captivate, Connect, and Compel predicting a packaging design’s in-market success. Here, Bürgen ultimately gained more than it lost, thus representing a shrewd move by the team behind the redesign.

Packaging Effectiveness Playbook - Familiarity - Burgen Bread
Read the Bürgen case study

Striking the right balance with a new look.

In our nearly decade’s worth of testing experience, we’ve seen the same pattern play out time and time again: a new packaging design will rarely exceed the benchmark set by an existing pack. Like we’ve already established, human nature is to (unconsciously) gravitate toward the familiar.

While a packaging refresh therefore isn’t needed as often as some marketers might think, the reality is that change is a constant, and resting on your laurels will only get you so far. Therefore, we advise marketers to approach a packaging redesign with the mindset of ‘small steps’ rather than ‘leaps and bounds’. After all, ensuring the brand remains a fast, easy, and intuitive choice is the name of the shopper marketing game!

Remaining relevant while not sacrificing familiarity is entirely possible when undertaking a packaging redesign. The 3Cs are ultimately a marketer’s north star and provide certainty around whether any alteration to a pack’s most recognizable properties will affect the product’s likelihood to make its way into shopping carts.

Changing up your pack’s distinctive properties and concerned about whether shoppers will still be able to easily find and buy the brand? 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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