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The 2013 Beauty Packaging Identity Trends

By: Aniko Hill
Posted: August 26, 2013, from the September 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Packaging is one of the most important parts of a brand’s presence in today’s crowded marketplace. It is the functional delivery system for the product, and has to work effectively and thoughtfully. It is the billboard for the brand, and should convey a story and a personality. It is also the physical space for product messaging, conveying benefits and instruction. Packaging is often the first and only interaction a consumer has with a brand, and it can be solely responsible for influencing purchase decisions. For this reason, beauty companies tend to invest in packaging design just as much in it—if not more than—any other brand touch point.

This article explores a range of beauty packaging trends taking place in 2013, and includes both superficial visual observations and more thoughtful analysis of brand identity expression. The following represents an audit of notable packaging identity trends for beauty products currently in the marketplace:

Trend #1: Sustainable

The trend toward sustainability in packaging follows a broader cultural shift in consumer thinking, and can be seen in almost all categories. In fact, its arguable that sustainability can really no longer be called a trend, as it’s really more of a movement­—consumers expect corporate responsibility in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Current research even says that women will choose a brand that is socially responsible over another if product benefits and price are competitive.

Brands with sustainable packaging typically reflect the product itself. For example, the formulas are often biodegradable, non-toxic or otherwise eco-friendly in nature. In this trend, both the primary and secondary packaging tends to be manufactured from sustainable materials.

Many companies with brands that follow this trend are visually sustainable, meaning they communicate a natural or eco-friendly look and feel at first glance. Sustainable packaging identities tend to have neutral color palettes or are completely stripped down to the packaging substrate itself. For example, Tay’s skin care line is packaged in 100% eco-friendly bamboo and recyclable PET plastic containers that are long-lasting and can be refilled and reused. The bamboo texture is the primary visual read, and graphics are kept minimal to keep from distracting from the natural beauty of the material.

Because many of the brands with sustainable packaging are responsible in their corporate practices, there is also often a cause marketing tie-in with some of the products in this category. For example, Method’s innovative Ocean Plastic bottles are made from a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic, which results in a unique gray resin that is intentionally left “naked.” The Ocean Plastic initiative is designed to raise awareness about cleaning up the world’s oceans, and Method employees even hand-collect plastic from the beaches of Hawaii for conversion into packaging.

Another example of clever sustainable packaging is Lush’s Little Green Bag, which is designed with minimal and reusable packaging. A selection of five unpackaged cosmetics and a durable aluminum tin are wrapped up in an organic cotton scarf, woven and screenprinted by a non-profit women’s cooperative in India. The only traditional packaging structure is a recyclable cardboard sleeve with instructions on how to use the products, a game and instruction on how to rewrap the scarf with traditional Japanese techniques. There’s even a face sticker on the label of the person who packed it for you.

And the sustainability trend isn’t limited to just boutique specialty brands—mass retail brands such as Pantene are also getting into the mix. Pantene uses plant-based plastic bottles for its Pro-V Nature Fusion line, which are made from more naturally derived ingredients such as cassia.

Trend #2: Animal Print

This next trend is purely visual, and is much more fun and playful in nature. Many current package designs out there today have either a graphic or tactile animal print element, which can be seen in both the primary and secondary packaging. The products within this category are highly decorative in nature, as well as influenced by fashion design and trends.

The brand within this trend with the most obvious ties to fashion is Jimmy Choo. Its eau de parfum secondary packaging structure features a pink snakeskin that is a direct nod to the shoe designer’s leathers. Tarte also has a fashionable slant to its brand identity, with an “eco-chic” brand story that describes its philosophy of packaging its natural cosmetics line in runway-inspired cases. For example, its Lights, Camera, Lashes mascara has an embossed purple snakeskin pattern on both the primary and secondary packaging. (And its latest iteration—Lights, Camera, Splashes——lso crosses over into the next trend to be discussed.)

In addition to looking like a fashion accessory, the high contrast repetition of animal print can also simply serve as eye-catching patterns on the shelf, particularly when paired with bright or unexpected color palettes. Victoria’s Secret’s Pink All My Heart fragrance features high contrast black, white and pink leopard print as the main identity on both the primary and secondary packaging, and Pinch Provisions’ Minimergency Kit utilizes a bright teal snake-like pattern on the product, which shows through the clear packaging structure.

Trend #3: Nautical

Because of the summer season, there are a large number of beauty products that are using a nautical or beach theme in their packaging, with some as seasonal offerings and some as permanent expressions of the brand identity. The packages within this trend use elements such as cool color palettes, misty gradations, nautical ropes and water-inspired illustrations or patterns.

Some of the brands within this trend make simple, subtle references to the ocean or beach. For example, the Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue fragrance has an abstract misty ocean blue pattern that is reminiscent of pool reflections. Other brands more literally reference the ocean. For example, Crabtree & Evelyn’s Himalayan Blue products feature ocean-inspired graphics that feel like vintage botanical illustrations, as does its Black Sea Mud & Seaweed Triple-Milled Soap.