Packaging has power – enormous power – over what we buy. The fashions
we wear express who we are. Packaging does that for products. We
identify with a product because we believe that it does for us what we
wish it to do. And as any brand manager will tell you, we buy the
“brand promise”¯ and the package carries a lot of that promise.
Try this test scenario. You are dying to break your shampoo routine, or
for some reason cannot find your usual brand. How do you select an
alternative? You generally pick a package that appeals to you or draws
your attention. Often you do that out of necessity – you don’t have the
chance to taste or try most products. The package must do the selling
right there on the spot.
Ask retail anthropologist Paco Underhill (author of Why we buy and Call
of the mall)
and he’ll likely produce studies and surveys on shelf
impact, shopping behavior and consumer psychology, all showing that it
does matter what the box looks like, even when we say it doesn’t.
Martin Lindstrom’s latest book Buyology – Truth and Lies about Why We Buy
covers the results of Lindstrom's $7-million study that attempted to
figure out what really makes us vote with our wallets. The over-arching
revelation – if it is indeed a revelation – is that, more often than
not, we as consumers do not know why we buy. We do not know what
actually affects us when we make a buying decision.
What we do know – and what marketers know – is that it is all about
emotions. How does the brand make us feel, is what matters. Our first
impressions, whether about products or people, are strong and quick. In
many cases, packaging is the main influencer. The billions spent on
packaging and branding annually are not spent on spec. Marketers know
it works, although even they don’t always know how or why.
Packaging has a huge impact on many other things as well, not just on
our buying decisions. On store shelves, the battle for space and shelf
impact is tough. There is a reason why a box of twelve pills is five or
more times larger than it actually needs to be to contain the pills.
Theft is one concern, possibly also anti-tampering, but mostly it is
about taking up space, taking it away from the competition.
As the brand gains shelf space with the bigger box, other things happen
as well. The bigger the box, the more shelving is needed. The more
shelving is used, the larger the store needs to be. The larger the
store, the higher the rent and the more staff is needed to keep it
running. We can keep going along this route.
The larger box also means larger cartons to ship the boxes, larger
warehouses, larger trucks and so on. A larger box uses up more
materials, more trees are cut down, more plastic is used, more garbage
is accumulated... And of course, it all costs more. We are not trying
to say that packaging is the cause of all ills, but we are suggesting
that designing and producing “a slightly bigger boxā€¯ is not a small
We also feel that we must finally start seriously caring about the
environmental impact of unnecessary and eco-unfriendly packaging.
Designers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers are the ones that can
influence what happens in the packaging world. Packaging manufacturers
will follow and start making whatever the market wants to buy. Ideally,
of course, manufacturers of packaging should also invest more in
developing eco-friendly options, but if unfriendly options keep selling
well, why would they change?
Our daily behavior proves that branding and packaging are important. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.
But there is a bigger picture and it includes the inconvenient truth
that much of packaging still ends up in garbage, in landfills or in the
The challenge is to keep the cool, the impact, the fun and the
practical function of packaging, but to do it in a way that doesn’t do
As always, we at The Coolhunter are looking for genuinely original packaging. Let us know when you see it!
From milk cartons to cosmetics, if its packaging that really pops,
let us know
about it! - Tuija Seipell
Looking for a design studio who can deliver - look no further than TCH Design