Why a brand should wear its heart on its sleeve

Packaging is far more than a vehicle to get noticed, it should serve as the preface to the brand story

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Pursued by an ever-diversifying media landscape pushing countless brand messages at them, global audiences are beginning to switch off, both figuratively and literally.
As a result, businesses and brands are finding it increasingly challenging to capture their target audience's attention cost-effectively.
Often overlooked, however, is one of the most effective forms of media available - that of product packaging. Brands pay through the nose across the globe to enjoy exclusive media opportunities but often forget the one most obvious occasion where they can enjoy an uninterrupted one-to-one conversation with their core consumer - on their own pack.
This represents one of the very few constant, controlled forms of media available in an environment that is becoming increasingly convoluted and as such, its inherent value cannot and must not be ignored.
In terms of these exclusive conversations with the consumer, it is the role of the packaging to ensure that this relationship is set in the right direction from the very beginning. As we know, first impressions are critical in human psychology; in the cluttered in-store environment, there are no second chances to impress and, as a result, a product pack must pull its audience in.
Interestingly, this does not necessarily mean screaming from the shelves. By contrast, this is often most successfully achieved by the use of clean, crisp, understated designs. Let's take the example of Apple.
Without doubt, we all remember how we were seduced from afar by the in-store sight of rows of beautifully crafted iPod cubes? And this was but the beginning of the love affair - the unravelling thereof was an experience in itself - immediately we knew this was a product unlike any other; one that was going to press our buttons as much as we would press its.
A second example of the strength of simplicity in packaging is Absolut, the Swedish spirit. Absolut has built its entire brand around its iconic bottle shape to significant creative acclaim and impressive business results.
More recently, the brand has begun to accessorise this bottle shape, creating limited edition packs. This tactic has been explored by many leading brands in the world today often working in partnership with fashionable artists, architects and designers.
In this way, a brand can ignite the interest of new consumers and reinvigorate that of its current customer base through a simple evolution of its packaging. But packaging should be far more than a vehicle to get noticed. Most importantly, it should serve as the preface to the brand story.
Effectively, what begins as a powerful visual asset can become so much more, accruing significant emotional equity. This is the opportunity that the vast majority of businesses and brands face; taking their existing product pack and evolving it into a vehicle to bring the brand to life, conveying its core values - the pillars and principles that underpin it - to its core consumers.
Take the iPod example; its box design exudes innovation, creativity, simplicity and entertainment, wrapping up the brand as much as it does the product. Sadly, examples of this approach are very few.
Whether a business is either able or even willing to bring its brand to life within its packaging or not, it is a fact of life that a consumer will always judge a brand by its cover. It is therefore critical that, at least, the two do not contradict each other.
For example, a product that claims 'green' credentials in its communications will only ever be truly green until it is presented in an eco-friendly packaging. So this is the current opportunity as it stands for brands looking to maximise existing assets but what does the future of packaging look like?
Inevitably, this will be primarily about sustainability. Whatever the brand in whichever sector, the use of fewer materials makes sense at every level; saving the planet and money all at once. So yet again, it will be the challenge of the marketeer to make as much as they can out of as little as possible.
And, while instinct may tell us that these solutions will be grounded in scientific progress, I suspect it is more likely that creative minds will solve the packaging puzzles of tomorrow.
The author is strategic planner, TBWA/ZEENAH

Why a brand should wear its heart on its sleeve
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