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  Satkar Gidda Attracting Consumers through Package and Product Innovation
by Satkar Gidda
May 23, 2005

For years branded packaging designers, and more importantly brand owners, have been aware that consumers make as many as 70 percent of their buying decisions in the store. They are also faced with huge choice in any product category. An article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Consumer-Goods Firms Duel for Shelf Space" indicates that, in many superstores, consumers face up to 100,000 items from which to choose (22 October 2004, Deborah Ball).

So, what does this mean to the brand owner, who is not only fighting for the hearts and minds of the consumer but also for the increasingly limited amount of space on the retailer’s shelf?


Year on year, retailers demand more for valuable shelf space, and as private label and specialty products widen the field and raise the level of competition, the strategic impact on packaging is huge. Now, more than ever, there is a need to achieve excellent stand out on shelf and product/pack recall in the mind of the consumer. But, looking around supermarket shelves, one does not see widespread individuality. Most packs in any category seem to have leapt straight from the same gene pool: same shapes, same sizes, same colorways.

Any 3D or graphic designer will tell you absolutely free of charge that the obvious way to stand out is to look different. Long-established brand icons such as Toblerone chocolate and Polo mints managed to achieve it. These are iconoclastic products that smashed category norms and have since become icons in their own right. However, these brands would be considered unacceptably innovative by marketers looking to launch them today and would be either strangled at birth or sent back to the drawing board.

So, what is the reason? Basically, while innovation was once seen as a vital tool in the consumer goods armory, risk-averse marketers are now squeezing out creativity in the interests of short-term profitability. Every new product or pack concept is researched to death, and many great ideas are thrown out simply because a group of consumers is suspicious of anything that sounds new.

Conservatism among the buying public, twinned with a generation of marketing directors who won't take a chance on something that breaks new ground, is leading to supermarkets and car showrooms full of me-too products, line extensions and minor product tweaks.

The notion of triangular chocolate (launched in 1908) would today be considered too difficult and too risky as a proposition, as would a mint with a hole, introduced 40 years later.

Consumers want new ideas and breakthroughs but are fed with a diet of conservatism that is sweeping through British corporations. Decisions made solely by marketing departments and market research companies are by their very nature unlikely to set the world alight and it is short-sighted to base all new product decisions on them.

A Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) survey several years ago suggested that while 33 percent of respondents believe that innovation "creates strategic competitive advantage," 42 percent agreed with the proposition that their own corporate culture is "the key constraint to innovation." The results showed that there is a long way to go until the innovation process is deeply embedded in the culture of companies; its use still seems predominantly tactical.

Our own agency, SiebertHead, has worked on Phileas Fogg snacks in pyramid packs and Torino wine in an irregular shaped bottle. Fogg's pyramids had a lift of a hundred percent in the first year of its new packaging shape. That sort of ROI is a compelling argument for innovation.

Despite huge amounts spent on research a quick look at the average supermarket will demonstrate that most packaging in the FMCG area is me-too and just doesn't stand out from the huge crowd of products on display. Those brand owners that have the conviction and courage to do something new will sweep away the competition.

Maybe now it's time for your marketing department to turn to an analysis of brands that have made the leap and take courage from their success, rather than let focus groups decide and define the future of the brand.

   Satkar Gidda is a director at SiebertHead.

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