Friday, February 2, 2024

Imposter Packaging

Personal care product packaging that evokes emotions associated with popular foods and beverages may not hold water.

You reach for those bars of soap and sniff on them, and they remind you of your favorite foods – enough to want to take a bite. There are liquid soaps filled in cartons which at a glance look like fruit juices. I recently spotted a brand of shaving cream labeled as ‘Coffee Shaving Cream’ that is probably trying to find appeal among the caffeinated.

It’s the real-world equivalent of click-bait, gimmicks in the appearance and other sensory aspects of a product such as fragrances, shapes and colors. While they might catch one’s eye in a store, they risk not being taken seriously. They also may be an accident away from being abandoned or becoming a legal or public relations nightmare, no matter what the fine print on the package says.

What can marketers learn from such imposter packaging? There are probably many unwritten commonsense rules in product differentiation through packaging and their sensory experience. Let us consider a few.

  1. If a product that’s not meant for ingesting can be mistakenly consumed as a drink or food item because of its packaging, placement or appearance on a retail store shelf, tell your designers to not go there with their design. The color of liquids in clear bottles is equally important – absolutely do not make it look like a popular drink, and hope that your customer is not color-blind.
  1. Do not assume that all your customers will read and understand labels on your clever packaging. Task your designer to come up with graphics, signs and symbols to communicate warnings or usage instructions on the packaging. Run your designs by children – they have a refreshing way of looking at the world without biases. Show the design to the elderly; they have seen too much of the world. Find a happy medium between those two opinions.
  1. If you want to differentiate your product, create a unique design for your packaging that becomes your brand’s signature. Do not cut corners by using milk cartons to package soaps, chemicals and oil-based products. Not only is that deceptive to the customer of a soap, but also disappointing for the connoisseur of milk or juices.
  1. One way to differentiate your packaging is to make it easy to be opened by arthritic customers with perhaps a self-contained opening tool, and child-proofed where needed.
  1. Make art that doubles as packaging so customers will covet it. Make it reusable for multiple purposes so that empty packages do not end up in landfills. Give your packaging a life beyond the expiration of the product it carries and your return on branding investment will improve dramatically.
If you are in the business of selling non-food products that smell like popular foods, consider adding a warning label for your customers: “This product may cause hunger pangs in those you meet. For best outcomes, avoid meetings before lunch hour.”