For as long as FMCG shopping has existed on a mass scale, the importance of the role of package design has often been an enigma for brand owners.
Marketing budgets have historically been dominated by TV campaigns to build saliency and product engagement, working on the premise that advertising would trigger positive memory mechanisms amongst consumers in store and thus drive sales. However, at the most important decision-making location, the shelf itself, packaging had to do the heavy lifting to influence consumer choice at the moment of purchase. Behavioural principles like “saliency” still demand that the pack in brick-and-mortar must be recognisable and convey the explicit as well as unconscious brand promise, in time pressured circumstances where selection (or worse de-selection) is often unconscious or instinctive.
Along comes the e-commerce revolution and, in a ‘shelf-less’ world, the portents for FMCG packaging became laden with doom and gloom. Many experts predicted packaging as we knew it was on its last legs – “Without the need to compete within a real shelf environment what purpose will packaging design have?” “Why bother with packaging when shoppers will simply buy what they always do online?”. The push for Mobile Ready Hero Images, the rise of the ‘refill movement’ and proliferation of AI driven subscription services, were further nails in packaging’s metaphorical coffin.
But, despite the announcements of its demise, the humble FMCG package is fighting back. The rise of e-commerce seems to have rejuvenated the role of packaging, not reduced it.
Firstly, the new retail paradigm has led to a proliferation of start-up brands that eventually break out into brick-and-mortars and, in the absence of big marketing budgets, are relying on packaging to gain attention in an already cluttered environment.
Secondly, and more game-changing, is the rise of “social commerce”. Social media platforms are not only a contemporary (and increasingly valuable) landscape for brands to promote themselves and their products, but also burgeoning purchase channels in their own right, as evidenced by the introduction of the ‘Shop Now With Checkout’ feature in Instagram earlier this year.
So, what does this mean for the role of packaging? The rise of ‘visual’ social platforms such as Instagram has increased the attention given to packaging design and is beginning to impact on the design process itself. There is a growing realisation amongst marketers that packaging must not only integrate seamlessly with other branded content online, but also ‘play the hero’ when appearing on Instagram, where a single expertly curated photograph can influence purchase behaviour, immediate or delayed, and brand perceptions.
There are several strategies that FMCG brands, both new and established, can deploy to make their packaging Instagram-ready:
- New brands that are designing specifically for e-commerce hold an advantage in that the traditional rules of pack design that are relevant to a physical shelf no longer apply. Products will not be compared directly versus competitors at the moment of purchase, and so there is opportunity to be more abstract and visual in design, with brand salience and product information (which can take up much of the real estate of packaging) delivered by reviews and testimonials, and the advocacy of social media itself.
- Instagram is not just a platform for new brands however. Coca-Cola’s personalised “Share a Coke” campaign was design with visual social media in mind, and rumours abound that the ‘slim-line’ redesign for the Diet Coke introduced in the US in 2018 was created with how it would look in Instagram in mind. The all-important chip visuals on the recently unveiled Lays’s pack redesign (that PRS IN VIVO worked extensively on) have been shot ‘top-down’ to leverage the Insta dinnerplate craze. Other brands who have embraced this chase for clicks and hashtags with packaging redesign efforts include Haagen-Dazs and Chobani, both leading with ‘minimalist’ yet visually striking designs that look as good on an Instagram post as they are effective at encouraging impulse purchase in store.
- Packaging design can be used synergistically with social media campaigns to connect the virtual with the real, incorporating societal and category trends that are at the forefront of social media presence into packaging design. An example of this being applied successfully is for the social “Which Jaffa Cake Eater are you?” campaign with each of the alternatives brought to life within the actual physical Jaffa Cakes pack.
What is evident is that there is clear opportunity for the previously under-appreciated package to play a headline role at the centre of brand’s social campaigns, using design strategy to create packaging that connects with consumers throughout the path to purchase, not just at the supermarket.
As the lines between brick-and-mortar shopping and e-commerce, including social, become ever more blurred – 70% of US consumers now shop in both - it is essential for marketers to understand and decode the full Omni Channel Shopper experience. As a consequence, PRS IN VIVO has recently launched a best-in-class platform, OmniPath™, that combines BeSci understanding and design thinking to evaluate how consumer choice is influenced throughout the Path-to-Purchase, through digital search, pre-planning and engagement touchpoints to the final selection in the physical shopping trolley or e-cart.
William Reeve is a Senior Director in the PRS IN VIVO London office, consulting brands on the influence of consumer behaviour in purchase decision-making.