When Packs Betray our Secrets – PRS IN VIVO – A BVA GROUP COMPANY

When Packs Betray our Secrets

Bad breath, haemorrhoids, hair loss, skin complaints, dentures and anything involving our intimate areas – just a few common complaints considered ‘embarrassing’!  As a qualitative researcher specialising in shopper and consumer experiences, working on embarrassing categories gives me great satisfaction because I genuinely feel as though I’m doing my small part in making the world a better place…and I recently experienced first-hand, just how important it is for brands to get their communication in embarrassing categories right…so it’s about helping myself too!

For the past six months or so, I’ve been suffering from something I’m very self-conscious about.  Luckily, I discovered a wonderful product I use daily to help alleviate this feeling.  However, at the weekend, I found myself in an embarrassing situation because of this very product.  You see, my trusty aide fell from my bag when I was standing in line at the supermarket checkout.  One of the two young ladies standing in front of me kindly picked it up but when she saw what it was, she paused, showed it to her friend and stifled a giggle before handing it to me.  I was mortified!

In that moment, I was really annoyed with the manufacturer of my must-have product.   Why hadn’t they done more to save me from my embarrassment?  Why weren’t they more sensitive to my needs?  Surely designing to maximise discretion is a common sense rule when it comes to packaging for ‘embarrassing’ items, no?

Packaging designers have lots to think about when it comes to sensitive categories and there’s a balancing act that needs to be managed.  In brick and mortar stores, the packaging for such products must be seen on the shelf and communicate the key benefits – after all, ‘unseen is unsold’.  However, they also need to make sure the pack is discreet and doesn’t draw attention to the problem, so shoppers won’t be embarrassed to choose and carry it to check out.  Designers must also remember that many people attempt to alleviate embarrassment by shopping online, so the packaging must also be seen in the e-commerce scenario and optimised for online browsing.

And discretion isn’t only important in the retail environment.  Designers must do their very best to minimise embarrassment during all stages of product usage from opening to using to transporting in public – and that’s exactly where my product failed me!

The key to getting communication right for embarrassing categories involves several steps.  Firstly, it’s important to engage with those who experience the problem – gathering opinions from users and potential users of your product.  Find out what causes their embarrassment.  What emotion(s) does this trigger?  When do these embarrassing moments happen?  Deep understanding of these key areas provide the tools to design communication on the product itself, the pack and POSM, which speaks in the right tone to the target audience.

Specifically for packaging, it’s important to understand how information should be displayed.  For example, what information must appear on the front of the pack and are there any words / phrases which should not appear there?  What can be on the side or back of the pack vs inside the pack?  When packaging design options are produced, test them IN-CONTEXT – i.e. in a competitive environment on shelf and/or online environment because a pack which looks beautiful in isolation don’t always translate well when placed next to its competitors.

And for relevant categories, do not neglect the usage experience (Second Moment of Truth).  Find out how consumers use the product.  Where do they tend to store it, who else might see the product and how do they dispose of it?  Does the packaging structure play a role and is that positive or negative?  Understanding these key issues will aid designers in creating packaging solutions which help to alleviate consumer embarrassment beyond the retail environment.

These steps are all essential – even more so when entering new markets launching a new product or innovating in these sensitive categories.

To do these things, you need a trusted partner, and that’s where PRS IN VIVO can help.  We are experienced in developing creative, tailor-made research solutions for sensitive categories which allow us to effectively engage with your target.  Using our behavioural framework, we can uncover the best ways to communicate with them across all moments of truth – whether that’s through POSM, packaging, product usage and beyond.

Of course, in sensitive categories, it’s crucial to be mindful about the way insights are gathered, so our methodologies are carefully selected according to the category.  For example, while traditional groups or interviews may be appropriate in some cases, there are others where a closed online community, ethnographic exploration will be more relevant.  Also, there are occasions where insights from professionals such as pharmacists or nurses may be beneficial.

Our philosophy is rooted in behavioural science and as such, we pride ourselves on our deep understanding of human behaviour and the importance we place on observing consumers in real life scenarios, making choices to address real problem areas, even the embarrassing ones!

Oh, and what was the product that had me dying of embarrassment in the supermarket you ask?  Well, it was this:

Do you agree that the product failed me during use?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with embarrassing category packaging – both good and bad.  And if you are responsible for packaging design or consumers insights for your brand, do not hesitate to reach out for more information on how PRS INVIVO can help you answer your specific questions

Yasmin Ramikie-Wacker is a Senior Project Director – Qualitative, who has been with the PRS IN VIVO London Team for 9 years and specializes in international qualitative research.  Her role has allowed her to combine her passion for travel and speaking to consumers about sensitive issues. This is the first of a series of blog posts she will be contributing.