Marketing is a discipline that underestimates people. It’s a fact. Walking around a supermarket is enough to realize it. The sloppiness with which some products are packaged and advertised is almost outrageous. The shelves are populated with indistinguishable products: same colours, same shape, same commercial positioning. It’s hard to imagine a less stimulating place than a supermarket.
And yet, even if we now take it for granted, it does not necessarily have to be. On the contrary, it’s even paradoxical that it is. If the primary purpose of a product is to be chosen and purchased, how is it possible that presenting it in the best possible way is not a priority? Each company that underestimates the care of packaging loses an enormous opportunity to convey value to the customer. Because, after all, packaging is the branch of marketing that finds itself fighting on the front line against an army of enemies. Most of a company’s creative efforts should be directed to that one single moment the product comes face-to-face with the customer, because that’s when the game really takes place.
Luckily, in recent years something is moving and there are more and more magazines, creative agencies, industry awards and simple enthusiasts who stimulate debate and promote reflections on the topic. But it is important to clear the field immediately. In packaging, the challenge is not played on pure and simple creativity, that is, it’s not necessary to follow the line of originality at all costs, but it is necessary to take into account three aspects that represent the pillars of this discipline.
Today every individual is subjected to uninterrupted visual bombardment. From the mobile screen to the real world, the impulses that hit the eye are incalculable. All this is further amplified at the time of purchase (online / offline) and is equivalent to an indistinct noise, which distracts attention and confuses the selection process. Here the role of packaging becomes crucial, because it represents the only element of distinction with respect to competitors (in addition to price, of course). The choice to differentiate and build a strong identity is the only way forward. If you were trying to be recognized among a thousand people dressed in red, would it seem like a good idea to wear clothes of that colour? Yet that’s exactly how most companies think it. Because in marketing the “follow the leader” rule is still widespread, based on the idea that imitating the market leader (and more generally competitors) is the most prudent and economically advantageous choice. In the competition organized by Coca-Cola in 1914 for the design of a new glass bottle the requirements were that it had to be recognizable in the dark or even shattered to pieces. The result is a perfect example of what it means to differentiate and have a strong identity.
At a time when the message (advertising and personal) is increasingly conveyed through storytelling techniques, the packaging strategies seem to remain the same as in the era narrated in Mad Men. The products on the shelves do not tell any story, much less tell the product they would like to sell. But storytelling is a fundamental part of the shopping experience. Be careful though, a package should not just describe, it should also, above all, inspire. A distracted look should be enough to enter the narrative and understand the company’s values. After all, a distracted look is often all that a buyer is willing to give. This is where coherence plays a fundamental role. All elements (shape, colours, materials, illustrations) must work organically to affirm a clear, simple and unambiguous message. The packaging must also embody the advertising message and be consistent with it.
We live in an age of great change. Civil society insists that companies adapt to ecological standards and for packaging to always be lighter and more sustainable. Within five years many historic brands will be forced to abandon plastic and redesign their packaging. It’s of a few weeks ago, for example, the news that Nestlè eliminated the historic yellow box of Nesquik in favour of a more ecological cardboard box. This offers immense opportunities for all younger brands, which can immediately start experimenting with different formats and materials, to be prepared for the challenge. Cardboard, glass and tin are experiencing a second youth and are on the agenda of all the major creative agencies in the field.
I truly believe that packaging can make the world a better place. Because the habit of beauty produces beauty. Good packaging speaks to people, not customers. It speaks a more sophisticated, but simpler, language, because it does not want to confuse ideas, it wants to stimulate them. Because the problem with many products is still that they’re communicating too much or communicating unsuccessfully.
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