May 31, 2013

Why Your Packaging Shouldn’t Be Lost in Translation

Why Your Packaging Shouldn’t Be Lost in Translation

Remember the movie “Lost in Translation,” where Bill Murray wandered around Tokyo for what felt like roughly five years? The trailers for that film promised a kind of May-December romantic comedy, and what moviegoers actually got was introspection nearly to the point of colonoscopy.

You don’t want your package design to make the same mistake. Whatever your product is, whether it’s a sports drink or Scarlett Johansson, your package needs to define its contents accurately and clearly, otherwise your product – and by extension, your business – risks earning the reputation of valuing flash over substance. Your customers may never trust you again.

Promises, Promises

If your packaging promises something spectacular, something so wonderful that the human mind can scarce conceive how life on this planet was possible before its existence, then that’s what needs to be inside. Since your product will, in all likelihood, completely fail to meet such spectacular expectations (unless your product is an Apple device of some kind, in which case your customer base will worship you no matter what), you might as well find another angle.

Yet, we’ve all seen this, and been burned by it – especially when it comes to food packaging. We’ve all been enticed by pictures of gloriously delicious-looking bowls of cereal, loaded with nuts, granola, fruit and clusters of indeterminate candy-like confections, and been greeted with a big box of flakes with maybe two sorry-looking raisins. Why, oh why must companies continue to do this? Don’t they know how this cuts us to the very core, and how much time we’ve wasted sweeping up cereal that we’ve hurled violently across the room in disgust?

If your product is not the best looking specimen in the world, you might want to (1) work on the aesthetic components of the product itself, and (2) use a picture of something other than a representation of the product on your package. There are a million package design and labeling variants that aren’t deceitful and are, in many cases, quite intriguing. It’s something we’ve previously explored, so you go right on ahead and commit it to memory.

Don’t Be a Tease

Customers really hate feeling as though they’ve been manipulated. There are certain packaging promises and advertising campaigns that leave the customer hanging in terms of the product’s capabilities and functions, as well as the complexity of use. If your home furnishing package promises “some assembly required” and the box contains, essentially, shelving molecules, don’t be surprised to discover your customer support voicemail box brimming full of anger.

Your packaging should prepare the customer for what he or she is going to find. While no one exactly likes spending hours and hours assembling an entire 6′ x 8′ entertainment center, if the customer is at least somewhat prepared, you’ll spare yourself a lot of grief.

Spark Curiosity without Being Completely Vague

You know how we just told you to be absolutely clear about what your product is and what it isn’t? Well, that is true, but you don’t have to turn your package into a legal document, either. You obviously want your customers to know what you’re selling, just like you want them to be aware of all of the marvelous features, but you don’t necessarily need to list them all in detail on the package. If you have a truly great product, customers will discover numerous ways to make it useful in their daily lives (trust us; there’s a smallish cult that has learned how to turn toilet paper into wedding gowns. We’re not making this up). Much like movie trailers, packaging can be effective previews of what’s to come.

So, what have we learned today? We learned that “Lost in Translation” was a ponderous waste of time (forgive us, Mr. Murray). We learned that designing product packaging that promises features and fails to deliver is a crime worse than car theft, in our opinion. Most importantly, we just remembered that we have a big pile of shelving parts in our garage that we still need to assemble. Damn you, Ikea!


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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