Packaging: The Value of Identity

We attended a technical packaging seminar where a diverse group of industry representatives gave a 20 minute presentation on the virtues of packaging specific to their individual areas of expertise. The focus for the night was the role of Packaging Design. It was a broad topic, which I had anticipated speakers across areas such as structural form, material innovation, print technology and brand identity. I was disappointed.

During the course of the evening, sometime after dinner and before dessert, the fourth speaker began his presentation on the topic of ‘packaging design’ relating to the visual graphics applied to the surface of his FMCG product – which in this instance was butter. This speaker was a well educated and a highly experienced marketer employed by a major food manufacturer and at my estimation, had been working with design agencies for well over two decades. You can imagine my surprise when the nature of his presentation was focused on design as decoration! He spoke of hiring “designy type people” to perform the very functional task of decorating the outer package with “colourful pictures and nice fonts” – a presentation I found challenging to endure. When referencing the creative professionals he worked with, the “designy type people”, I noted a change in his body language and tone – at this point he began to wave his arms around and make gestures not dissimilar to that of a clown at a children’s party. I believe his intent was to infer that designers are in some way visual pranksters - completely undisciplined and to be approached with caution! This speaker’s view on packaging design was naive and uneducated.

Packaging is the voice and heart of a product brand. It should express its values, intent, product integrity and personality in an aesthetic relevant to its individual function and audience needs. Packaging has the opportunity to be a 5D sensory experience, and for consumers (in an FMCG environment), it has approximately 3-5 seconds to speak to them and make a persuasive connection that results in sales. It sounds cold, but it’s not.

Packaging is a canvas for brand identity storytelling. It plays a critical role in helping people make informed choices that satisfy their rational and emotional needs. Therefore, the value of design in this environment is to communicate the brand’s (products) reason for existence – and present a glimpse into a deeper narrative, which is anchored in a place of truth (an important detail). When this is understood, packaging is a powerful and persuasive tool for building deeper connections with people and is a primary communication touch-point for any FMCG brand owner.

Upon reflection, I now understand this speaker’s position and feel a certain sense of duty to help him. To join the dots and support others like him to understand, respect and appreciate the commercial value that packaging design as a core communication touch-point possesses.

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Author: Amber Bonney
Head of Strategy @ The Edison Agency

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