Doing Something Different with Packaging Design

Lately, I’ve been rather intrigued by food packaging, perhaps because I have been focused NOT in food packaging for so long. Whatever the case, I have noticed that, for the most part, food packaging design has seemed to have been boiled down to a basic formula. The formula has what is essentially a frame or maybe some banding that contains the trade dress and logo. Below the top band of branding-work is the name of the product. The remainder of the packaging is the standard perfect product preparation shot and finally around that there’s a sprinkling of violators that yell out some sort of benefit.

All in all, it’s a very effective way to make packaging. You hit all the high-points and supposedly answer all of the customer’s questions. The down-side is that everyone is doing this very same thing. In that context, does this plan work all the time?

Here is an excellent example of one brand doing something different in the fry mix segment of your groccer’s shelves. Crispy Frymix by Drake’s

This packaging nearly completely walks away from the standardized format of modern branded packaging. There’s no product shot at all on the front. They opted instead for a very simple colorful line-work image. The obvious downside is that you can’t really say what Drake’s fry mix looks like compared to the others.

This brings me to a theorem that I have been considering for quite some time: I believe that shoppers understand what they are looking for and are reasonably capable of finding the general area where to find items in stores. For instance, understanding that in the bread aisle is where they’re going see bread. Now, that seems pretty simple, right? Almost dumb-simple, but consider how many companies demand that on the most valuable packaging real estate the basic description of the product needs to be seen – and big (BREAD!).

Think about this: if you’re standing in the bread aisle, surrounded by bread that all kind of looks the same, do you really need to announce that it’s bread on the front of the package? The other supporting point is that for the most part, people know generally what products should look like and if they don’t they usually ask for help. Everyone knows what bread is and what it normally looks like, because it’s looked the same for longer than there’s been most countries. It would be different if the bread they were making was purple and had hair  like a porcupine…

Bringing this all back from the lack of bread design diversity in modern shopping centers, the crux of my argument is that on most common, maybe even commodity products, the prepared product image is redundant when you take into account the consumer. We all know what a breaded coating is supposed to look like.

The real goal of packaging from a sales point of view is to get that product in the hands of a buying consumer. I think the best way to do that is to create some sort of emotional connection with the consumer. Obviously, there are many ways to do it and it can be argued that these standardized product shots do just that, but when they are faced with a shelf full of similar offerings as above, it is the Drake’s package that stands out in a sea of all-too similar boxes. People will be drawn to the package that is not like the others, and they will certainly have a far easier time remembering the duck product (especially if it works well) on their following visits than any from a row of formula-designed packages on the shelf.

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