September 5, 2013

Even the Big Guys Make Packaging Design Mistakes

Even the Big Guys Make Packaging Design Mistakes

Packaging design mistakes aren’t the end of the world, and unless you’ve viciously offended your customers, it’s probably not the end of your brand.

When it comes to package design, there are so many practical and social variables that it seems impossible for one designer or even one design organization to take them all under consideration. Nevertheless, the public demands that every package on our store shelves be not only serviceable, but also fail to remind us of illicit underworld activities. The American consumer is persnickety that way.

In a way, it’s kind of comforting to know that even the bigwigs occasionally make huge and costly mistakes. Take, for example, Hershey, that century-old chocolate juggernaut made world-famous during the Second World War by American GIs who routinely took their candy bars overseas to barter against being shot. In 2007, Hershey launched a product called “Ice Breakers Pacs,” a breath-freshening item consisting of a kind of minty, sweetened powder that the user was supposed to allow to dissolve on the tongue.

It was marketed towards sporty teenagers who, it was presumed, were too busy snowboarding and being cool to bother with time-consuming activities such as chewing. The design and marketing brain trust decided upon a small, brightly colored package reminiscent of an old-timey pill box (except plastic) filled with individually wrapped packets of white powder. Now, the almost instantaneous complaint wasn’t that the product was not only nutritionally void and also rich in liver-destroying chemicals, but that the product packaging evoked the image of [ominous music here] narcotics.

Shockingly, it had occurred to no one during the product and packaging design phase that small, easily concealed packets of a chalky white substance would remind people of heroin and heroin accessories. Or, if that was the secret intent, it had misfired spectacularly, since it resulted in a total product recall in less than one year, without any enhancement of the brand’s prestige or revenue stream.

Edgy Isn’t Everyone’s Bag

Having a deliberately edgy design concept doesn’t work for everyone, as we have seen. In fact, if you, as a product manufacturer and distributor, have absolutely no personal investment in what is generally considered “groovy” by the youth of the world, you might be best served by avoiding the issue altogether.

Concepts with a hint of danger are best used for products that have a hint of danger; i.e., things that are perfectly legal, fun and what people want but may also ruin their lives in the long run, like soft drinks, processed snack foods, snowboards and certain styling gels. If your product could conceivably be embraced by a segment of the population that doesn’t care about living life to the max, best avoid extreme packaging devices.

The Benefits of a Packaging Design Agency

Creating an edgy image for a product package isn’t something to be entirely avoided; quite the contrary, in fact. However, if you are completely at sea with regard to what is acceptably “edgy” in contrast to what might result in lawsuits, it might be a good idea to hire a consultant.

Packaging design agencies (like us), make it their business to know what will work and what won’t. Moreover, the agency will be able to look at your concept with a pair of fresh eyes and see grievous errors that were all but invisible to the original developers. Additionally, a design firm will have reams of data and spreadsheets delineating the thousands of hours of research on what the public finds desirable and what causes immediate nausea. This is something you’ll need if your company culture is irretrievably unhip.

Packaging design agencies are even beneficial when your branding/packaging strategies prove worthless; you’ll be able to deflect much of the blame if the strategy misfires horribly.

Don’t Despair

Packaging imaging debacles aren’t the end of the world, and unless you’ve viciously offended a particular segment of the population, probably not the end of your brand. Some surprisingly idiotic concepts haven’t destroyed companies, and even though they may be rehashed for educational or comic effect, the public generally forgets in a few years. It is even argued that a hint of controversy (just a hint, mind you) can be good for brands – as long as it’s largely unintentional. Deliberately ramping up the borderline offensive strategies in a desperate attempt to stay relevant will only turn your brand into “The Real Housewives.”


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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