I had a wrestling match in the kitchen this morning, but not I might add with someone resembling the Incredible Hulk. I was grappling with a plastic carton which was proving to be impossible to open. Optimistically, I had attempted to prise it apart with my fingers, followed by a futile attempt at frenzied stabbing with a pair of scissors and then hacking into it with a carving knife. This carton just wasn’t going to give up its contents. Does this sound familiar?
Is it my imagination or are we having to pit ourselves against an increasing amount of impenetrable packaging? The Australian state of Victoria hosts the Golden Dump Award for the most excessive use of packaging material. Dump by the way stands for ‘Dangerous and Useless Materials in Packaging’. My complaint isn’t just about the over use of plastic, it’s as much about the irritation of having to battle to get into it. Short, slippery pull tabs that are impossible to grab hold of, bottles hermetically sealed that even your multi-purpose Swiss army knife wouldn’t open and boxes that are virtually bullet proof. Useless packaging must be high on the causes of the increase in consumers stress levels.
Have you noticed how deceiving packaging can be? Giant size plastic containers in supermarkets hide mini portions for a premium price, that wouldn’t satisfy the hunger of a mouse. Easter eggs housed in enormous boxes usually contain a few mouthfuls of chocolate and leave us feeling cheated. Graphics on packaging are often guilty of faking proportions, leading us to believe we’ll get value for money when the reality is quite different. Surely design concepts should be developed with the end user in mind and in making the consumer feel good about buying the product. Designers should take into account that someone will actually need to open the package. We’re frustrated by packaging which doesn’t meet our needs and statistics show that 67% of consumers will choose the product with the least packaging when given a choice. Personally I don’t want to see an apple encased in a giant plastic bubble. It doesn’t need to be given room to breathe! Britain uses more packaging than anywhere else in Europe. In Switzerland and Germany customers have the option of leaving the unwanted packaging behind at the checkout, to be returned to the manufacturers. The only snag may be in removing the packaging without holding the queue up for half and hour or so!
Apart from the fact that the environment pays dearly for all this over-packaging, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of breaking and entering. Could we please have packets in proportion and that don’t take the skills of Houdini to open?
When we’re browsing the supermarket shelves, are we aware of how much our emotions affect our choice of products? What entices you to reach out and select one item from a multitude of others and in effect reject the competition?
Product packaging has a unique personality which either connects, or fails to connect with the consumer. The choice is actually instinctive rather than rational and we generally make unconscious decisions within a few seconds, based mainly on colour and shape. If anyone was watching a recent episode from The Apprentice, you’ll have seen the design for a cleaning product using the colour black shot down in flames. The apprentices had believed that black would stand out as ‘different’. Consumers on the other hand see black as ‘dirty’ and green, fresh colours as ‘clean’. Black used in this context just didn’t have the feel good factor essential when making emotional contact with the purchaser.
Packaging design should be original but also needs to be relevant to the product inside. It needs to speak to the target audience in words they will understand and relate to. This informative brand voice is supported by the typography and colour palette, building a unique niche in the marketplace, enabling specific audiences to be targeted effectively. Putting it simply, if you’re hoping to attract the teen market to purchase your product, a picture of a granny sitting knitting in a rocking chair isn’t likely to hit the spot. But it isn’t that simple is it. Blue for example is considered to be an appetite suppressant and is the least common colour in the foods that we eat, but is the most favoured colour for toothbrushes! Blue is also not gender specific, appealing to both men and women. Yellow is the happiest colour in the spectrum and stands out from surrounding colours, while Green represents the Ecology and is used worldwide as a sign for safety. Pink has a calming effect but makes us crave sugar, so we’re likely to be seduced by cakes packaged in a pink box. Red, is widely used to promote energy drinks and products associated with love and passion. Red text stands out prominently in the foreground, impossible to miss in a warning sign.
Traditionally retailers’ own brand products have competed with the leading brands by producing bland packaging with minimal text and little attention to the visual appeal. The consumer isn’t likely to connect on an emotional level but will purchase due to price alone. The one advantage the own brand has is consumer loyalty and the fact that the customer has chosen to shop in that particular store gives a head start. They feel comfortable with the brand. However, the retailing of own brands has moved on considerably. We now have Taste the Difference, The Finest, The Best of the Best of all the Rest with packaging designed to compete with the mainstream competitors on an even keel. My son once suggested that the most basic budget range, packaged in plain white boxes and black text should be branded ‘If the best just isn’t for you, then this will have to do’ range!
Now the question is, if you were a package what colour and shape would you be?