Why Minimal-looking Packaging Only Works for Apple

From time to time, I get requests to make packaging that is ‘minimalist, like the iPod’s’. Once we get to work on it and a few revisions later, we’re pretty far away from the minimalist concept and much closer to the standard packaging look, kind of like this great video that came out a few years ago:

While this video is comically funny and at poor Microsoft’s expense, it hints at why most other companies can’t do the Apple packaging. The real reason is that Apple’s packaging isn’t really designed to convince the shopper that their product is the best at the shelf level – and it doesn’t have to.

Apple’s marketing and branding is set up so that the sale happens well before the shopper even gets into the car to go to the store. The packaging only serves as reassurance for the customer, rather than something that has to convince. They do this by having a very rich saturation of advertising that sells to a lesser extent the product and to a larger extent the emotional conductivity to the brand and the perceptions this entails.

Most companies, whether they sell consumer electronics or Macadamia nuts just doesn’t have the pervasive outlay that Apple puts out, so they rely on the packaging to be the final decision maker at the shelf level. The packaging, then is salesman and has to convince the shopper that the product is the one they want.

It becomes a big gamble then to leave the packaging clean, perhaps too big of a gamble for any marketing person to take. Important information must go onto the package in order to guarantee the competitiveness of the item, or so it seems.

Perhaps the real issue here is that Apple doesn’t sell personal media devices, they sell a lifestyle. People buy more on the idea of engaging in the Apple lifestyle rather than the actual features of the item. In this world, the Apple packaging is perfect as it sells the awesomeness of living in Apple-world. 5Gb as opposed to 32Gb is not in the vision of the person who wishes to live the Apple lifestyle – this information can certainly be left off of the package.

As a further aside, Apple has also done a very good job of separating their products at shelf level where the plain opportunity of comparing the items is difficult and speaks to the lifestyle concept: either you are looking at just the Apple products or you are not – and we all want to be part of the cool club…

So, if you really want the clean, minimal packaging for your products, the most important things to copy from Apple, is  to at least create a pervasive and rich advertising campaign, but the optimum thing to have is to sell your product as something that doesn’t have features but has the means to transport the consumer to their ideal life. Then features become less important and the exciting world that the brand creates – if done well- is far more enticing than battery life or the kind of salt on them nuts.

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