Package Design

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Preen's breakthrough dispensing package

Preen's breakthrough dispensing package spreads granular weed killer via a battery-powered chute unit built into its cap.

Preen's battery-powered dispensing top has a built-in on-off switch.

Preen's battery-powered dispensing top has a built-in on-off switch.

The spinner mechanism on the top of Preen's battery-powered dispensing cap.

The spinner mechanism on the top of Preen's battery-powered dispensing cap.

Branding and marketing is all about making things pretty and putting a best foot forward. That extends to package design, where graphic design is used to either give a new brand point-of-sale power or an established brand an appealing refresh.  Sometimes the packaging’s structural design is used to innovate the overall shape or a closure to either add aesthetics or consumer convenience.

With this conventional wisdom in mind, I found myself blown away by a package this past week, one that didn’t jump off the shelf at me, but totally surprised me when I’d open it to use the product inside. I’m talking about the new Preen granular weed killer I’d picked up at The Home Depot. Not sure if you’re familiar with Preen, but you apply it prior to and after you mulch a flower bed. Simple enough product to use, but its makers figured out how to really innovate the package, adding actual functionality.

The cap  is a fold-open dispensing chute, novel enough unto itself. However, it now features an actual motorized dispenser to help gardeners apply Preen evenly and to prevent accidental dumps of too many granules at one time and to one area. By motorized, I truly mean motorized. There is an on-off switch, a spinner section that limits the amount of product it takes from the main handleware jug, while it limits the amount of product it sends out the chute. The whole operation is powered by two AA batteries (supplied!).

The makers of Preen have even put together a helpful video off their web site, and presented here, to show how the new package operates.

All in all, very impressive work in a package that, while pleasing from the outside, isn’t screaming to tell you about this surprising piece of innovation on the inside. This is the kind of thing that elevates marketing. It isn’t something that the consumer is necessarily clamoring for, but any time you are adding functionality, you are changing the game in unexpected ways.

I have to admit that this Preen package surprised me. Newton Associates has actually done a few projects for their parent company, Lebanon Seaboard Corporation, but on the professional turf care side of their business, through Mike Sisti, who helps us with new business development, particularly in this industry. This is a company focused on the growing of green plants and grasses, so it is all the more surprising that they have led the way on a significant packaging development.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7EPQPd_NksY#!

 

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I haven’t talked package design in awhile, but sometimes there is one jumping around on store shelves just screaming for attention and cannot be denied. I’d like you to meet PEST OFFENSE, a plug-in device that uses ultrasound to repel rats, mice, roaches, and other household pests.

PEST OFFENSE pushes a lot of buttons with its package, but especially the one marked patriotism.

PEST OFFENSE pushes a lot of buttons with its package, but especially the one marked patriotism.

Pest Offense Products, Inc. uses every sales angle it can to grab consumers by the lapels. There’s the “As Seen On TV” icon to add instant credibility — we all know that nothing in life is worthwhile if it hasn’t been televised.  There’s the environmental pitch — no hazardous chemicals and no harm to people, pets, and food.  There’s even the heartstrings appeal — in this case, a picture of device inventor Don Hodgskin with his lovely grandkids. The problem here is that Don and his creative package design team have succumbed to the desire to say and sell too much — the kitchen sink approach, in which 10 pounds is crammed into a 5 pound bag (or in this case, folding carton).

Because of this confusing mix of messages, I could have easily walked past this product, but there was one front and center pronouncement I couldn’t ignore — the most dubious patriotic product plug I have ever seen. I never object to American manufacturers who put our flag on their products to underscore that they are made right here stateside. I am also pleased to see someone call out his product as “An American Invention.” However, Old Glory coupled with the catch-phrase “Putting the USA back to work” is more than I can bear. I appreciate Mr. Hodgskin announcing his intention to hire American workers, but we’re talking about a small, plug-in, ultrasound pest device, not an auto plant or a new steel mill. Our national economic challenges run deep, and even factoring in that every small step helps, it is more than a little disheartening to see America’s once (and still) formidable manufacturing prowess leveraged with late-night infomercial pitch tactics.

Assembled isn't quite the same as Made in America.

Assembled isn't quite the same as Made in America.

The kicker comes when flipping the package over to read the following words on the back — Assembled in The USA. To put a fine point on this, PEST OFFENSE is not fully manufactured here. It is put together from some percentage of parts made elsewhere.  Ouch. If you are going to wave the flag for American manufacturing, please don’t wind up sounding like a dictionary-embellishing politician.

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Brave new 2.0 world out there. Iconic brands are finding it is dangerous to play with familiar icons. Last year, GAP got hammered in social media for rolling out a new logo. In recent days, Coca-Cola, perhaps the most revered brand of all, especially at holiday time, has taken it on the chin for changing its familiar red can to polar bear white (and silver).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdxrVabe_C0

You can see Coke’s noble intent here with a temporary can redesign meant to promote giving to the World Wildlife Federation tied to its long-running polar bear commercials. However, the road to hell is paved with similar do-gooder, feel-good efforts. Aside from creating brand confusion at the point-of-sale between Coke and Diet Coke cans, the more worrisome concern was over those for whom the ingestion of sugar is a health issue, namely diabetics. Hard to believe that a company like Coca-Cola hadn’t considered some of these issues.

Not long before this story broke, I was in the soda aisle stocking up for the arrival of Thanksgiving company and it occurred to me how confusing buying Coke has become — there’s caffeine-free regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, and there’s the familiar Coke of the past century, with caffeine, and in a red can, but not on the shelf when I was looking, which caused me to pause, but not be refreshed. Perhaps it was already sitting there in the white/silver can and I like many others just missed it.

From a pure package design standpoint, with the exception of all-important color, Coca-Cola did a nice job of carrying over brand identity; however, with so much identity tied up in red, that misstep is not a minor one. To me, it is actually a surprising one. You don’t get to world’s most familiar/popular brand by making many errors in judgment. Beyond the New Coke rollout fiasco, I had to wrack my brain to think of another significant stumble.

The only instance that stays with me is an account in David Meerman Scott’s excellent “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” about the company’s reticence to participate online and offline when the Mentos dissolved in Diet Coke, creating Old Faithful backyard science experiments. Mentos embraced the goofy nature of it all, while Coca-Cola got all stodgy corporate because they could not control the consumer fun. If the same thing happened today, I am guessing it would be front and center on the company’s Facebook page (where by the way, the Coca-Cola arctic home message is still up and front and center — well, at least the WWF donations effort did not suffer the same fate as the white/silver cans).

Coca-Cola's white can redesign went south, but WWF/arctic home donations are hopefully still heading north.

Coca-Cola's white can redesign went south, but WWF/arctic home donations are hopefully still heading north.

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Luxe Pack is the premier show for creative packaging.

Luxe Pack is the premier show for creative packaging.

Trade shows, whether exhibiting or attending, demand the most comfortable pair of shoes in your closet, a full pocket of business cards, and a honed 30-second elevator pitch.  The cab line at the Las Vegas airport during the week of the Consumer Electronics Show resembles the back-up at a Disney theme park ride. I have been standing in someone’s booth and been dripped on from the leaky roof of the Javits Center. Once taking a cab back to an August security show, I took a full shower in a suit and tie when we passed by kids who had taken the cover off their neighborhood fire hydrant. Yes, trade shows can be more than a little challenging.

Which is why I like to visit Luxe Pack every year when it comes to New York (or you could also choose Monaco or Shanghai). It is not your typical trade show by any stretch. It attracts exhibitors focusing on packaging and luxury goods for major global brands in beauty, wine and spirits, and fine food. It is held in the Metropolitan Pavilion and The Altman Building in Chelsea. It brings together less than 200 exhibitors with some really impressively artful samples. And show staff come around the aisles at the end of the day and serve champagne.

The  hall is populated with many cosmetics and fragrance industry execs. Most of the conversations are in English but with a French accent. Everyone is overwhelmingly polite and gracious. This is how all business should be conducted.

Mostly, I go to Luxe Pack, however, to view and get inspired by some of the world’s most beautiful packaging, as well as the materials and components that go into these packages.

HLP Klearfold is the global leader in visual packaging.

HLP Klearfold is the global leader in visual packaging.

One of our clients, HLP Klearfold, was an exhibitor again this year. HLP Klearfold is the global leader in visual packaging (clear plastic folding cartons), part of the Hip Lik Group of Hong Kong,  with world-class production facilities in Shenzhen, China. We have been assisting North America with branding, ads, web design, literature, exhibit graphics, sample packages, and PR.  Their printing, special effects, and Soft Crease scoring capabilities are really impressive. The combination of clear packaging and imaginative structural and graphic designs result in some showcase opportunities that support top brands and premium positioning.

While at Luxe Pack, I had many interesting conversations with other exhibitors eager to talk about their high-end, one-of-a-kind packaging (etched glass, carved wood, metallic effects).  Even as I was headed out to the street, I encountered one last exhibitor, Material Connexion, who is a consultancy to manufacturers and packagers looking for sustainable solutions. They maintain an incredible global database and a material sample library, a collection of which it featured at the show. This company’s services are a potential strategic fit for two of our clients, so it was a worthwhile trip to Luxe Pack just to learn of this resource. I highly recommend Luxe Pack to anyone with a luxury product to brand, package, and sell. And since you missed this one in New York, you can also plan a trip to Monaco in October.

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This one is wrong on so many levels, I am not sure where to begin. One of the biggest stories of the week is the FDA’s intention to require graphic new warning labels depicting cancer and other bad outcomes on the packaging of cigarettes sold in the United States.
I am all for visceral advertising that packs an emotional wallop to change hearts and minds. A wealth of public service spots carrying this message have been in the public domain for decades. This, however, is not advertising. What this is is a series of well designed, slickly produced package warning labels, each added to a legal product sold to adults who willingly purchase that product. It is hard to believe that any cigarette smoker at this point in human history could possibly be unaware of the harmful effects of smoking.
This is a great example of big government overreach at cross purposes with itself. The FDA’s goal is to get everyone to stop smoking by every means necessary. Is there a more regulated product than tobacco? Tobacco companies are not allowed to use broadcast advertising, because it might seduce new smokers, especially young people. Heavy penalties are in place to discourage retailers from selling tobacco products to minors. Municipal regulations have driven smokers out of public places to the great outdoors to light up (casinos appear to be the exception). Print advertising and packages already carry ominous text-based warning labels. Then, there is the matter of extreme taxes slapped on cigarettes to force smokers to make an economic decision about smoking. The enormous tax revenues reaped by government off a product that the FDA could ban outright suggests enormous hypocrisy and a conflict of interest. Finally, where does Big Brother get off plastering graphic images of disease and death all over commercial packaging. Why stop with cigarettes? How about photos of liposectioned fat featured on the front of Big Mac cartons? Car crash decapitations added to new car stickers? Melanoma posters in tanning salon windows? Many slippery slopes lie ahead.

One of the FDA's tasteful new warning labels.

One of the FDA's tasteful new warning labels.

What bothers me the most about this latest effort, however, is another nail driven in the coffin of civility. Just because the Feds CAN do something doesn’t mean that they SHOULD. Cigarette breath is one thing. This is just in really bad taste.
During college, I went to transfer a car title at the local justice of the peace. In his office was a poster of a smoker whose jaw and lower half of his face were gone from cancer; the poster bore the cheery greeting, “Thank You For Not Smoking.” Once the transaction was over, I left disturbed by what I’d seen, but also alarmed that this man was okay with having this horrible image of disfigurement and impending death staring back at him, eight hours a day, five days a week. Nice treat for his office staff, too.
This new round of warning labels brought back another memory. One Saturday, I was driving through the next town with my elementary age son. Abortion protestors were staging a demonstration and some were standing by the road with incredibly graphic signs featuring images of dead fetuses. Freedom of speech may allow zealots to expose young children to those shocking photographs, but wouldn’t a sense of decency kick in at some point in their protest planning process. A punch in the gut isn’t a winning debate strategy.
At a time when we are looking for ways to reduce big government spending and the growing deficit, I nominate the new cigarette warning labels program to get lopped off by the grim reaper’s axe. How’s that for a graphic image of death?

Update: A preliminary injunction has been granted against the Food and Drug Administration’s new requirement for graphic warning labels. Suit was filed by Lorrilard on constitutional/free speech grounds. Read all about it here in Packaging Digest.

Update: Looks like the Feds came to their senses. I’m sure it was after they read this blog post.

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Part I took place in 2007 predating this blog, but it is familiar territory that all of us at at Newton Associates found ourselves sadly revisiting this week. It was the sudden unexpected loss of a graphic arts great, whom we had the pleasure of collaborating with as a resource and getting to know as a friend. It was déjà vu of the worst kind.

In Memorium: Peter Cowell, Package Design Pro

In Memorium: Peter Cowell, Package Design Pro

Back then, the news was if possible, more shocking, because of its totally unanticipated nature. A week after wrapping up a design project with frequent freelancer, Peter Cowell, we received a phone call reporting that Peter had passed away in his sleep after going to bed early the night before with a headache. It seemed beyond surreal given that the ever-colorful, always entertaining Mr. Cowell had just been doing his ever-reliable best to create some believable but fake brand labeling for a print ads, sales literature, and trade show graphics for one of our clients that makes dairy packaging machinery. The results were utterly convincing in English and in Spanish, thanks to Peter’s attention to detail (and as an international man of mystery).

The news was too shocking to be true. Peter couldn’t be gone. He was just here, cracking jokes. A few days before, I had met him at his home studio to pick up finished comps. Sadly, it was true — the way-too-young artist was gone in his prime, leaving behind a family he loved and a lot of shaken business associates.

Some of Peter Cowell's intuitive package designs

Some of Peter Cowell's intuitive package designs

Three years later, we find ourselves still missing Peter’s talent, professionalism, and great humor. But especially because we are experiencing that sad unexpected moment with the premature loss of another artist friend of ours, Pat Crombie. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Crombie family, just as they did for the Cowells in 2007.
Like Peter, Pat passed away very suddenly. In his case, it was a heart attack.

In Memorium: Pat Crombie, Instinctive Designer

In Memorium: Pat Crombie, Instinctive Designer

He was a devoted family man who managed to effortlessly balance his career and home life. But Pat had a very different skill set as a designer than Peter. Where Peter excelled at package design, Pat was a great organizer of content for literature and for web sites. What both shared was an elegant style, a sense of order, and an uncanny awareness of visual appeal. None of us ever saw either man ever shaken by a crazy deadline or a too-tall assignment. In fact, they both had a marvelous self-deprecating way of taking it all in stride.

When you are in the agency business, you are constantly exposed to wonderful portfolios, especially these days when great design and illustration and photography are but an e-mail or web site click away. There are so many distinct styles and talented professionals out there. However, not all artists are adept at managing the other aspects of this business, from customer service to always hitting the right notes for your client and the assignment at hand. In this sense, and so many more, both Peter Cowell and Pat Crombie were the real deal. I hope they are someplace better, sharing a drink, cocktail napkin sketches, war stories, and an awareness that they have left a huge void down here. Heaven doesn’t need more artists and friends, but we sure do.

Pat Crombie's designs were always seamless and striking

Pat Crombie's designs were always seamless and striking

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Rethinking Packaging

In a drive for a more sustainable future, some otherwise thoughtful people are ready to toss away current packaging.

Some big thinkers are at work to save the world from one of its greatest threats — packaging. I happened upon this thought piece by Maria Popova via Google FastFlip, which means that it has already been seen by a lot of eyeballs. And it appears in Big Think, which has attracted sponsorship from Intel, a company whose chips are inside many products that rely on packaging. Here is the opening:

Product packaging is one of consumerism’s most toxic byproducts — transient, temporary, and lacking the vaguely utilitarian excuse for existence that the product it contains can claim. It requires energy to make, adds to shipping weight, and is often made of polymers that linger in landfills for thousands of years. Now, designers are turning to innovative materials and engineering to revolutionize the environmental impact of packaging.

Wow. In one short paragraph, packaging has been relegated to the trash heap of history. The products that consumers purchase are vaguely utilitarian? The packages that protect and display them (and in the case of food and beverages help to preserve and to serve them) serve no purpose?

We are way down a slippery slope here. Packaging is a vital global industry. It uses materials as diverse as paper, plastic, glass, metals, and adhesives to deliver the myriad of products we buy and use. Each package, primary and secondary, is a marvel of structural and graphic design. What the world needs now is NOT more vivisections of the economy and companies and people’s livelihoods. This approach is so far beyond ideas for sustainability through source reduction and recycling that it should be setting off alarms with a good many thoughtful people, including editors at Wired UK and the Huffington Post, who publish Ms. Popova. But it’s worse because her article features two examples of this new thinking by industrial designers.

Clever Little Bag for Puma

Clever Little Bag for Puma

One is a “clever little bag” created for Puma as way to do away with traditional shoe boxes and scheduled to rollout in 2011. The design is clever, but let’s see where Puma’s sales go in relation to Nike and Addidas as a result of the diminished opportunities for enhanced branding and marketing that traditional shoe boxes provide.

Universal Packaging System

Universal Packaging System

The second is something called a Universal Packaging System that can be used for just about any product that can be wrapped. It may provide a certain level of protection, but it either creates the element of surprise as to what is inside or gives every product the look of being sold by fishmongers.

This thinking might be okay for everyone who wants to move to a commune, where economic scale is small and equality and good intentions matter more than end results.

Here’s another thought: Long live packaging. Long live the many people in the packaging industry who make our lives better on a daily basis.

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