When it comes to our buying choices, our first impressions, for better or worse, make far more of an impact than we care to admit. We like to think of ourselves as savvy shoppers; the sort of people who aren’t in thrall to the superficial allure of high end packaging design, but if we saw a genuine Rembrandt painting in a solid gold frame sitting on the floor of a consignment shop with a $19.99 price tag on it, we’d probably walk right by. We’re not exaggerating.
Roughly two months ago, the celebrated guerilla artist Banksy consented to have a group of his signed canvases sold at a street stand in New York for approximately $60 apiece as a kind of unpublicized one-off event. Now, Banksy is arguably the most relevant, lauded and famous artist in the world. These pieces could sell in a gallery or auction for several thousand dollars each, so you’d think that the number of people clamoring for an original Banksy painting at $60 would make Black Friday at Walmart look like a Lawndale community theater production of Annie.
Only three people bought paintings before the stand was dismantled. Three people — who probably thought that they were replicas and are dancing in the streets as we speak – bothered to go up and make a purchase. No one else even bothered to walk up to the person managing the display and ask what was going on. The artsy SoHo district probably wept bitterly for days after that. Hilarious!
The Power of Luxurious Trappings
What the Banksy example illustrates is how a lack of gorgeous packaging will devalue a product in the mind of the public. Consumers are desensitized by the glut of cheap trash on the market; why would anyone put their faith in a product that’s packaged poorly? If the packaging looks cheap, the product must be cheap. To the consumer, nothing that’s really worth having is sold in bins.
As any package designer will tell you, the consumer must be seduced by the package; in most cases, that is the consumer’s introduction to a product. High end packaging design is more than just the frosting on the cake – it’s what tells a customer that the product is worth their hard-earned cash.
The Difference between Luxury and Crap
Materials – When designing packaging for luxury items, it’s the quality of the materials that do most of the convincing, not the wordiness of the labels. Natural materials look prestigious – wood, thick paper, fabrics and glass are the premium tools for first-class product packaging. Remember, valuable products need a tremendous amount of protection. Flimsy plastics, corrugated cardboard and felt are generally no-gos.
Color – Look at the packaging for the truly high-end products. The color scheme can vary depending upon the brand identity, as can the package’s creativity (or lack thereof). While bold and bright tones aren’t excluded from high-end package design, certain fluorescent colors – pinks, purples, namely – lack sophistication, and are more likely to be associated with teenage fashion victimhood. You’re far more likely to see rich earth tones and black. Again, brand identity is a major factor, and if a seizure-inducing color palate is appropriate for the brand, go for it, dude.
Wording – The fewer the words on the package, the better. Products with a huge amount of superlatives and, heaven forbid, “As Seen on TV” typically don’t really appeal to the prestige product buyer. Whatever the high-end packaging design concept is, the shape and construction of the package is front and center, and if there is any wording on the label, it’s likely attached to the brand logo. That’s it. Luxury packaging screams “luxury” simply because it is so muted.
Prestige items are products that exist to make the customer feel like they’re in the top social and economic tier. The packaging is the first step in telling the public that this product is something that a member of the Saudi Royal Family would wear/eat/drive. What’s the point in a prestige item that doesn’t broadcast its immense value?
So, what have we learned today? We learned that we can’t keep a luxury item’s extreme luxuriousness a secret by failing to package properly. We learned that as much as we consumers think we know quality, we still must be told via package design. Most importantly, we learned that if we’re ever in Manhattan, we’re buying every single Banksy canvas we see, even if it’s being sold out of someone’s ’97 Honda Civic. We’re not making that mistake again.