As we have seen, package design can often provide the whole reason for a brand to exist. In spite of this, the package is just one of several tools in the brand-building tool kit. Some products simply can’t be sold unpackaged, so they are put in bags, boxes, bottles, jars, cans, cartons, or tied to a board or holder of some kind. Packaging can accomplish several functions. It can:
• communicate brand identity (achieved by differentiating a product from its competitors, telling a story, conveying an image of value, and making an emotional impression);
• attract attention in a busy retail space (the package serves as sign and advertisement);
• position a product within a certain category or price range;
• perform a useful function, even supplanting the product itself in importance (the package serves as container and protector, and carries instructions for use and information on nutrition, health, and safety); and
• fulfill some corollary function (the package can serve as souvenir merchandise—think of jam jars printed with “collectible” designs, giving them a residual branding value long after the contents have been used up—or as storage containers, like the plastic buckets that some LEGO bricks are sold in).
All of these are achieved through the astute use of design. Conveying the brand message is the single most important task, but the others must not be neglected.
The design of the package must reflect the qualities associated with the brand. Is it fancy? Cheap? For people who care a lot about their clothes? For people with no time to worry about clothes? Is it the one my mother used? And most important of all, is it the one I want to use?
The desire to make the strongest brand statement possible sometimes leads to goods being unnecessarily overpackaged. As customers become more aware of and concerned with the impact of human activity on the environment, some brands are touting their use of postconsumer recycled packaging, packaging that is easily biodegradable, or offering goods with minimal packaging, or none at all.
For many fast-moving consumer goods (the products in your supermarket), the package is virtually the only brand experience the customer has between the time the buying decision is made and the time the product is used up. While the quality of my laundry detergent is important (how clean are my clothes, how nice do they smell?), the thing customers are going to remember most of all is the package: that’s what they’ll look for next time they buy detergent.