News & Views

Opinion / Unwrapped: The new rules of packaging

by Contagious Contributor
Digital changes everything. Not just the way we market our products to consumers but, increasingly, the look and feel of the products themselves. MediaCom’s global head of applied connected intelligence, Pinaki Dutt, considers the packaging of the future

As e-commerce becomes an increasingly dominant part of the consumer purchase journey, brands need to do more than just adapt their packaging to look good on screen; they need to rethink its purpose.

That’s because product packaging is facing a similar crisis of existence. In the pre-digital world, it was used to convey promotions and product positioning, attract consumers and help brands differentiate themselves from their competitors.

But when consumers buy products and groceries online packaging has only two functions: to protect and preserve the product inside and make it easily transportable.

Indeed, Brandless (above), an online supermarket in the US, sells exclusively own-brand products with simple, descriptive packaging designed primarily to keep its contents safe to eat. Skipping Rocks Lab, a sustainable packaging start-up in London, has created Ooho, is an edible water bottle made of seaweed.

Marketers need to find a new purpose for their physical packaging. Here are seven ways that packaging could become relevant again:

1. Design e-packaging
E-packaging is any combination of text and visuals that represent a product online. These words and pictures are what ‘package’ your products online, so need to be optimised for e-commerce environments.

At a basic level, a rethink could mean making sure images work better on screen, and using fonts and colours that stand out in these cluttered spaces.

At a more sophisticated level, this might mean adapting descriptions to respond to the cultural needs of key markets. MediaCom’s Cultural Connections study reveals that Japanese consumers crave knowledge and want proof a product will work before they buy it, so it's crucial these details appear online.

In China, on the other hand, consumers are more curious and vain. They are drawn to packaging that is big and visually striking. Online representations need to be similarly bold, maybe using innovative graphics and visuals to grab attention.

2. Take on the sceptics
Brands need to be braver about using e-packaging to address misconceptions. In a world where protests and misinformation live online, such owned spaces can counteract these messages by addressing concerns in the description of your e-commerce listings.

Take, for example, a product falsely perceived to be encouraging obesity; the e-commerce listing could include a clear reference to its calorific content and the need to consume as part of a balanced diet.

3. Bring the shelf to the e-store
Brands need to deliver the same supermarket shelf standout experience on desktop, laptop and mobile. One way is to work with ecommerce platforms directly to test new features on their websites ahead of your competitors.

This might include changing the colour or look of a product page. If you were looking to promote your product’s eco-friendly credentials, for example, you might want to colour this page green, or perhaps include pictures of trees in the background.

Think of it as changing an in-store display. How can you dress up the digital space around your products to reflect what you are selling?

4. Adapt your packaging by user
Marketers need to flex their messages to whoever’s receiving them. Our eye-tracking research in China reveals that men and women read differently online, so you should personalise your brand pages. Consumers are almost always logged in to e-commerce sites so it’s not far-fetched to think about using this data to adapt page design.

5. Enhance your green credentials
Even in an ecommerce world, there are opportunities for physical packaging to become more responsible once the product is delivered. FMCG brands, for example, could enhance their packaging with QR codes, which direct consumers to their nearest recycling point.

6. Create packs that connect
There is also scope to use physical packaging as part of the connected home. You might think about including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or similar technology into your physical packaging to create a feedback loop with a consumer’s smart home technology, for instance.

This would allow you to anticipate future orders (and help you manage your supply chain), or enable you to send reminder messaging for consumers to reorder.

We live in a world of Alexa and other voice assistants. But when a consumer asks to learn about your product, what will they hear? Beyond images and product descriptions, increasingly, your e-packaging will need to contain compelling complementary audio content too.

Ultimately, the rise of e-commerce could create a rebirth for packaging. Key elements of the design are unlikely to change – no one is talking about killing off the Energizer Bunny – it’s just that the way they are used will evolve.