Presentation can be as important as the product itself
By B. Collins
Scott Lucas has bad news for those who hate clamshell packaging, the nearly impossible-to-open clear plastic fortress that encases many consumer goods – it’s not going away.
While many holiday shoppers may lament this fact as they slice, gnaw and wrestle to free Barbie and other Christmas playthings from their display tombs, Lucas maintains “there is a rhyme and reason for the clamshell.”
Lucas, executive director international brand consultancy Interbrand, notes that clamshells allow products to be displayed so product developers and inventors don’t need to go through the added expense of professional photography to illustrate their wares.
Moreover, “clamshells allow consumers to see what the buttons look like, how big the screen is,” Lucas says. “Clamshells provide a great seal, great theft prevention. And they preserve the shopping experience.”
Yet as inventors ready their products for market, there are pitfalls to this ubiquitous breed of packaging. For starters, cost.
“If someone wants a clamshell, they have to spend $50,000 to $100,000 for the tooling to make the clamshell,” notes JoAnn Hines, who headsPackaging Diva. “Inventors come to me all the time and say, ‘I want to order 100 units,’ and I say, ‘You can’t afford this (clamshell) packaging.’”
The way manufacturing works, the higher the quantity, the lower the per-unit price. Even runs of a few thousand units are not enough to make custom clamshell packaging pencil out.
This is one of the reasons Hines recommends inventors factor in packaging early and often during the design phase.
Packaging is “one of the first things they need to be thinking about,” Hines says. “The packaging is so integral to the selling, shipping and merchandizing of the product. So many wait and then realize they don’t have a package and rush. Then they have a problem in the way it’s packaged and packed.”
Wayne Rothbaum invented the Sinch, a way to keep your iPhone or MP3 player headphone cords tidy. He spent a lot of time with consultants crafting the look, feel and narrative of his product and its packaging.
The product, which appears to the uninitiated as some sort of clip, “floats” on a white background on the front of the packaging. The word “Sinch” heads the top, followed by “headphone assistant.” At the bottom is the tagline, “live tangle-free.”
The packaging violates some conventions, namely it’s not readily clear what the product does and why consumers should pay $15.99. The back, however, shows the Sinch in action.
For Rothbaum, the packaging was more important after the purchase.
Once opened, consumers find an easy-to-follow, accordion-style brochure showcasing how to use the product.
The Sinch essentially is a magnet that corrals headphone cords.
The packaging “is about good design and innovation meeting in a playful way,” Rothbaum says. “Magnets are fun, so for me it was about building an emotional attachment to the product.
“The packaging is an extension of the brand that offers a sense of quality,” he adds. The accordion brochure is “a nice reward for opening it up.”
Indeed, because the product was in a new category – headphone cord organizer – the packaging had to pull extra duty, notes Jonas Damon, creative director at frog, the design firm that worked with Rothbaum.
“The challenge in the packaging is that because the product is so simple, it didn’t always communicate its function by itself,” Damon notes on frog’s website. “The packaging needed to convey enough about what the product is and present it as something very special. The packaging almost becomes a second product.”
The Sinch has the look and feel of Apple packaging. Although Rothbaum concedes there’s a parallel, “that wasn’t the intention going in. We weren’t thinking about Apple when we designed this product.”
While that may be true, the frog webpage is laced with homage to the late Steve Jobs and the frog’s work with Apple. Clearly, frog shared and shares a design ethos with Apple – which when it comes to packaging can be good and bad.
Jonathan Asher is senior vice president of Perception Research Services, a global firm dedicated to improving packaging and shopper marketing efforts, which includes conducting qualitative research, on-shelf assessments, in-store, online and in-home studies.
Asher says new product developers need to consider the design language and color palette of their product category, but do so in a compelling way.
“If you copy Apple’s design, you get associated with that market,” he says. “But you want to make sure you’re communicating what your product is.
“If green is the dominant color of the product line and you’re in green packaging, you will get lost,” he adds. “You have to be sure you’re seen. We say, ‘If you’re unseen, then you’re unsold.’”
Asher cites a ginger ale example.
“If you want to stand out from the green color associated with ginger ale packaging, do you come out with a blue can?” he muses. “Yeah, you’ll stand out. But no one’s gonna know you’re ginger ale.”
In any case, Hines, the Packaging Diva, says first-time product developers should consider using stock packaging to keep things simple and within budget.
Almost all large distributors offer generic packaging, which includes bottles, jars, boxes and, yes, clamshells of various dimensions. You can customize the packaging through labeling or card inserts, Hines says.
She also cautions against seeking a high-end packaging design firm, at least for newcomers.
“A lot of people go through incredible design and R&D and all this money at the tail end for professional packaging design services,” she says. “Major retailers may not like your professional job.”
Packaging suppliers can offer valuable insight into what your packaging should look like. (Hines has a long list of packaging suppliers.) These companies have been in the business a long time and have the experience and insight to help produce the most attractive, retail-friendly packaging.
A note for the paranoid – packaging suppliers are unlikely to rip off your product.
“They don’t make money knocking off inventors’ products,” Hines says, adding that the same can’t always be said for manufacturers.
Packaging Do’s & Don’ts
- Use stock packaging, but custom labels and inserts. Stock packaging costs a fraction of custom packaging
- Vertical packaging is better than horizontal
- Use lighter, thinner materials
- Keep your retail-shelf footprint to a minimum – less is more
- Stay away from dated hyperbole such as “bonus” or “ultra.” Focus on storytelling – what the product does and its benefits
- Avoid a giant logo with no room for anything else. The name of your new product, at this point, is the least important packaging element
- Know your retail environment. Where are similar products displayed? What is the dominant packaging look and feel of your product category? Are there lips on shelves that may obscure text on the bottom of your package?