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Packaging Design: Engaging Consumers

By: John Lamb
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the August 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Increasingly, these companies are recognizing that the consumer is king. Every aspect of the design must be fully explored to reach out and engage consumers at all levels and throughout the life of a product. Shape, texture and color, along with the use of new and more expressive materials, are being exploited to give better shelf standout.

Retail environment—The retail arena is now the major battleground where brands and packaging need to make a statement. Therefore, one element that is primary to nearly all packaging briefs is the requirement for shelf standout and visibility to attract attention. The average U.K. supermarket—where most personal care products are bought—has around 40,000 stock keeping units in store. Of these, the average shopper will see around 300 and will buy 30–50 in a normal weekly shop, of which 2–3 will be personal care products. However, it generally is accepted that the amount of time spent at the personal care fixtures is far greater than at any other, mainly because consumers see this as an opportunity to indulge and experience something for themselves and not just as a routine family purchase. Once attention has been won, the package must deliver positive functional interaction as consumers invariably play with the packages to experience the product before purchasing it.

Materials—As well as concentrating on key aspects of standout such as color and shape, designers also are adding differentiation through materials and perceived visual function. This may include the creation of negative shapes, or spaces between packages within a range producing separation on the shelf, while focusing on a design that promotes a consumer’s perception of high-package volume.

In addition, materials can be exploited to deliver brand messages, often on a subconscious level. Packaging materials no longer house, transport and protect. Materials are visceral experiences that pass unquestioned into consumerr understanding, with the new function of materials being to entice, delight, seduce, subvert and communicate. A knowing, intimate whisper in the consumer’s ear—unlike the sometimes brash shout from the rooftops of advertising or the rational metaphors of 2-D graphics (“cold as ice,” “fresh-cut grass,” “clear as morning”). For instance, most personal care packages are sold with closure systems that allow the consumer to open the package and smell or look at the products within. The packages are experienced in the hand before purchasing so the packaging materials become the brand while the product becomes its own on-shelf advertisement.

Designers, therefore, are being called upon to create packaging that responds to these new marketing strategies and consumer profiles.