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Keeping Packaging Cohesive

20/04/2011

The best thing you can do is build a united front across the entire shelf space. It’s pretty hard to do. There’s financial aspects of doing a hard roll-out so you end up piecing the new look out or you’re a gigantic company with many divisions so it’s difficult to cut across silos to unify the trade dress.

What do you get if you can make it work? You get a brand that looks sharp. You get a line of products that all look current and products that look fresh. Your products have been reborn in a new dress that speaks to the customer in a way that’s timely rather than dated.

If you can’t make it work, you are presiding over a shelf that’s more like a brand’s history lesson, displaying every managerial dynasty the company has had. The new products are weighed down by the old trade dress making the entire line look like someone who’s treading water. It’s the difference between dressing like a hipster and dressing business casual. Sure business casual person looks the same as every other business casual office worker but then again, you’ll never mistake them as hobos.

Alright, so that was a little pithy, but I do have examples. Below is a shot of products by Sony found in a nondescript Wal*mart in America.

So you have a Radio on the right and tapes on the left. It’s obvious that there’s a Radio factory owned (or licensed by) Sony and there’s the Cassette factory owned (or licensed by) Sony. The dress doesn’t match. Has one been on the shelf longer? Am I buying the junk that doesn’t sell? Is one going to be discontinued? And perhaps the biggest question: Are these really made by Sony or just some company that’s paying Sony to drop its name?

These are all questions that a brand manager never wants to hear about their packaging.

Let’s compare this to what Betty Crocker did in the Dollar Tree (yeah, I shop at Dollar Tree – how else can I have a calculator in EVERY room??).

Betty Crocker obviously owns the cooking implement segment in this store. There are no older products to smear the look – all of the packaging matches. When it all looks the same the packaging acts as one giant billboard for your products. By doing this, they’ve put together a story of richness that rivals, and perhaps surpasses, the offerings in stores with much higher price points. Are the products comparable? I have no idea. I don’t think I actually own a spatula anymore. But it looks like it is. That sells the Dollar Tree shopper. It would sell a Wal*mart shopper as well, I bet.

Now, I know that this Betty Crocker thing is really hard to do for most companies. There’s all that stock of printed packaging that’s already here and product that’s already been packaged. Then there’s the product on the shelves running the old stuff. It would be too costly to bring it all back for re-pack, to be sure.

There are certainly benefits to making it happen, though. Change the things you can. Sell the accountants. Get rid of the old stock and make the shift to the new trade dress happen faster, your shelf presence and your brand image demands it. The company that does this is offering a pledge to consumers that they care about how their products look on the shelf. If the company cares how they’re presented then they obviously care about the products they make, right? It goes to the brand’s promise.

Nobody wants their company’s trade dress to be a time line of all the stuff that doesn’t work anymore. Every customer shops for the best product they can afford, but they really want to be assured that they’re getting their money’s worth. If the company doesn’t care that their looks don’t match, how could you reason they care about how well their stuff works?

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