April 11, 2014

Where’s the Line between Creative and Kitschy

Where’s the Line between Creative and Kitschy

Johnny Cash made the expression to “walk the line” one of our most popular shared cultural references. As crucial as finding balance is, it’s as difficult to achieve in packaging design as it is in our daily lives. But the Man in Black had a point: straying too far in one direction or the other can have disastrous consequences. While kitsch can be a way in to mass appeal, especially in a culture ruled by hipsters who cherish anything a sane person might deem low-brow or outdated, the line between being genuinely creative and insufferably kitschy is as sharp as a razor.

If we assume that the simplest approach is the right one, then keeping it simple may not be so stupid. When creative packaging design is the goal, sometimes going big is the answer. But how do you know when you’ve got just enough before you cross the line to too much? Let’s look at how creativity in packaging design can be attention-grabbing without crossing the line into off-putting.

Finger-Licking Good?

The first culprit in our lineup of line-crossing offenders is this ham-fisted attempt at creative packaging design. This package for pork sausages takes the brand’s “hand-reared pork” slogan a little too literally. For a processed meat product generally comprised of the leftover bits of a pig’s anatomy once the good stuff is butchered for chops, loins, and bacon, is it a wise idea to bring fingers into the picture? Pigs don’t have fingers, but this example of creative packaging design on steroids is enough to make you want to bring up your lunch. While we applaud the designer’s efforts to think outside the box, we’d sooner buy this product were it packaged in unmarked cardboard rather than this digit-ally enhanced container.

Bad Packaging Design

Fruit, Yet Not Fruit

While the above example engages our taste buds in an off-putting way, on the other side of the line is this example of fruit juice packages that incorporate the fruits themselves to make the contents seem mouthwatering. It would be difficult to resist the temptation to pop the straw and dig into these gorgeously packaged banana, strawberry, and coconut juices. The designer created a functional container that is as visually appealing as it is simple, proving that the line can be successfully navigated without perpetrating a gastronomical misdemeanor that may drive away more customers than it entices.

Bad Package Design

Help without Crossing the Line

We love the fun this packaging designer had with creating interesting, informative, and eye-catching cases for various generic over-the-counter medications. By designing a series of packages for pills for various ailments, the designer has simultaneously created a collectable series of medicine boxes. Getting straight to the point with clear taglines like “help, I have an aching body” so buyers can avoid the complicated verbiage that often makes up medication labels, these nifty little containers are so cute it’s easy to convince consumers to pick up a couple extras just in case. They’re just kitschy enough to be appealing in a cute way without crossing the line or going too far. It’s a clever way to integrate smart, simple, clean lines into a creative packaging design while enticing consumers to collect multiple iterations of a product.

Creative Package Design

And finally, to prove the point that it’s possible to integrate the human anatomy into food packaging without creating a stomach-turning result like the finger fiasco above, we have our final entry into our exploration of the fine line between creativity and kitsch: this eye-catching, funny, and aspirational packaging for high-protein sandwich bread.

Funny Package Design

This designer found a cheeky and interesting way to link the product’s intended purpose (helping consumers grow muscles by eating high-protein ingredients) into its packaging. Silly? Yes. Clever? Definitely. And the best part is that it’s not even about the bread — it was a marketing effort to get people into a chain of fitness studios! It’s a fine line, as we’ve seen, but the only gastronomical impulse this packaging elicits is a belly laugh… not a vomit reflex. We give it flying colors on the creativity index.


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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