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  Ted Mininni Advertising is Dead, Long Live Packaging
by Ted Mininni
June 16, 2008

It’s no secret that most conventional advertising isn’t cutting it. When marketers think about how to allocate their budgets, maybe they ought to be spending less on advertising. Why not take those dollars that aren’t going to be spent on advertising, and invest them in packaging instead?

The rationale for this argument is simple. With consumers increasingly tuning out of mainstream media channels and tuning into their iPods, mobile phones and social networks instead, most advertising is going to a dead letter office. At the same time, consumerism continues to flourish. Shopping is a pastime for many Americans and a team sport for Tweens, teens and young adults.

We are experiencing a downturn in the economy and tighter wallets due to substantial rises in living expenses. While softer at present, consumer sales will rebound just as soon as the economy shows signs of picking up again. We ought to get ready for that—now.


This brings us back to investing in packaging. Many marketers would scratch their heads and say that they already do invest substantially in product packaging. If that is so, why does a plethora of category packaging out there look so boring, so similar, so uninspiring? Remember that consumer packaging may be the only opportunity many brands have to “sell” consumers, since so much advertising is lost on them.

Stand in the aisle of any major supermarket or mass retailer in America and notice in numerous product categories, many brands are indistinguishable from each other. If your brand looks like the rest of the product brands in the category, an overhaul is in order. To wit: Do we need one more pasta sauce with a red and green label? Can you discern one brand of sauce easily from another?

Given this, is it enough to leverage brand assets on product packaging? Implement proper communication hierarchy and the use of signature brand colors? Design a unique, “ownable” structure to help establish brand differentiation?

Apparently not. With myriad consumer products in the marketplace these days, it’s getting increasingly difficult to get, and keep, the customer’s attention at retail. New product introductions are growing exponentially and the pressure of increasing competition is only making the problem more acute.

Packaging before Product
What does the consumer interface with first—the product, or the package the product comes in? The package. So, it is expected to do a great deal. Get the consumer’s attention in three seconds flat. Stand out from competitors’ products. Hold the consumer’s attention long enough to identify with the message, lifestyle and emotive cues in the imagery and communications prompting them to pick up the product. Make an all-important connection. Take it home.

Now be honest and ask yourselves whether your packaging is doing the job. Even if your products represent category leaders, is your packaging really selling the brand? Given the mercurial nature of fast-changing consumer desires and today’s retail environments, a change may be in order. That change might be subtle, yet make a huge difference, while requiring a fairly modest investment.

If packaging isn’t doing the job, it’s time to reinvest in this most crucial element in your marketing mix in a significant manner. That might even involve—gulp—radical new thinking. That takes courage. But look at it this way: It’s less risky to break new ground if a brand has little equity or market share, and it might be just what the doctor ordered.

A new departure in packaging might create some real excitement and WOM buzz… what marketer wouldn’t love that? So, if you’re convinced your new brand of gourmet pasta sauce is the best ever, why package it with red and green labels? Why not give serious thought to revolutionizing the category with stand-out, stand-alone packaging? Pom Wonderful did just that in the juice category. Pringles did it in the high volume snack category. These package designs are now iconic, easy to identify and firmly rooted in consumers’ minds.

Even with established brands, a leap of design faith can yield dramatic results. Pepsi recently rolled out over 30 new whimsical, contemporary designs on its soda bottles and cans. The eye-popping art work retains the brand flagship colors—blues, red and white. The brand identity and heritage are intact, but they’ve been contemporized for a new Pepsi Generation. This new “Choreography” campaign has elevated Pepsi in consumer consciousness, especially for its target audience: youth.

Procter & Gamble’s Downy brand is another category leader. Yet, P&G has launched a new Radiance collection of three “fabric enhancers” in distinct, “perfume” fragrances. The packaging looks like anything but stolid, old stand-by Downy. Sophisticated fragrances and sensuous, curvy packaging with metallic colors, cued to each fragrance, deliver a fashion statement. Who would have equated Downy with fashion and sophistication in the past? So why can’t established brands launch exciting new packaging for line extensions?

Bottom line: brands demanding unique positioning in the consumer’s mind demand unique packaging. Whether the challenge is to market heritage brands to newer generations of consumers or to launch new brands to the marketplace, the packaging focus has to be the same: owning mindshare. Packaging may be marketers’ first and only opportunity to make that vital connection with the consumer. If your products are lost in the retail shuffle, or you’re about to jump into the marketplace foray, you’ve got a big challenge on your hands.

Now tell me there’s a better way to allocate marketing funds than trail-blazing new packaging.

   Ted Mininni is President of Design Force, Inc., the leading package and licensing program design consultancy to the consumer product and entertainment industries. He can be reached at 856-810-2277.

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Advertising is Dead, Long Live Packaging
 Works for me!May I suggest a slight addition?It's in light of the perceived negatives of packaging environmentally. There is now a fair old desire, if not demand, by consumers for brands to up their game in this regard, pushed by media and legislative bodies as well.Hence... think reuse! Trust me, be it 'accidental' but most certainly when designed in ( is getting more and more great examples daily), there are opportunities aplenty for fun and profit all round. Plus the planet doesn't do too badly either:) Win, win... win... 
Peter Martin, Junkk Male/Big 'Ed, - June 16, 2008
 Nice article. Pack design becomes even more critical for Image driven categories like Cigarettes, Alcohol, Perfumes etc.
For example, Kent with its 3-tech pack design clearly stands out communicating Stylish, Sophesticated and Premium values. 
Ravi Shekar C, Senior Research Executive, AMRB LLC - June 16, 2008
 We agree! Design Perspectives have been working in this area for a while now. We have even developed some clever tools and techniques to evaluate how your brand communicates its message through the packaging. For more information see 
Steve Lillford, Senior Research Associate, Design Perspectives - June 16, 2008
 Interesting. Wake up those who just think conventional media is the way out. With limited budget, invest in packaging is a good way to stand out, and if it is so good, advertising on packaging benefits do give extra mile. 
Richard Lo, Consultant - June 16, 2008
 i agree. most marketers follow industry standards which are lead by the market leader. this must have come long ago when there was one market leader. a new competitor lacked the courage to go against the norm. also they hoped the consumer would confuse their brand with the leading one. example in kenya most tea has a green pack. things need to change. just bought an iron box that has orange as the colour. cool. stood out in the super market and my kids dived for it. that is great packaging that influenced choice. 
robert wamai, consultant, the bigger picture - June 17, 2008
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