Packaging is the new Broadcast?

No, really! There was a good article in the New York Times today… The article talks about how consumer packaged goods companies, which once saw their packages largely as containers for shipping their products, are now using them more as 3-D ads to grab shoppers’ attention. [I didn’t realize that was a revelation … but … whatever …]

Three main themes emerge:

1. As media fragments (yawn) packaging is emerging as one of the last “broadcast” channels.

2. Packaging is incredibly effective at prompting purchase at shelf. (Not new news either, although there seems to be a new interest in unconventional packaging abroad).

3. The power of packaging is now being leveraged to reinforce, change or build beliefs and associations about brands. (Something advertising has historically been tasked with doing.

Mountain dew’s new packaging

I’d also add the thought that there is a move to turn the mundane into decor (new Kleenex tissue boxes, Evian’s “Palace Bottle”), potentially a move to reduce the cost of packaging (although this isn’t evident in the “3D Shelf Communication” trend so much) and also functionality – like the new Coors beer bottle that turns blue at the right temperature.

AAAA Smartbrief also wrote about this and headlined its article “Packaging as ad vehicles”. I am probably splitting hairs (moi?), but I think its more about communication than advertising. The power of packaging (and display) is huge, especially in the impulse category, but its not necessarily right to define this as advertising.

Pepsi’s new packaging

The New York Times article proposes that the shift is mostly because of the “rise of the Internet and hundreds of television channels, which mean marketers can no longer count on people seeing their commercials. So they are using their bottles, cans, boxes and plastic packs to improve sales by attracting the eyes of consumers, who often make most of their shopping decisions at the last minute while standing in front of store shelves”.

“The media is fragmented, and we can’t find people — we can’t get them to sit down and listen to our argument on a television spot,” said Jerry Kathman, chief executive of LPK, a brand agency based in Cincinnati. “The package can convey that argument.”

It is now a truism to say that the traditional way of advertising is increasingly ineffective. I think the key is to remember what behavior the communication vehicle (for want of a better term) is designed to affect. Packaging is unarguably crucial to prompting purchase at the moment of impulse (deciding between sodas in the chiller, for example), and can be a powerful manifestation of the brand. Let’s not forget that if its good-looking it also sits around people’s houses in plain view…

That said, it still can’t dramatize the brand in a way that advertising or other branded experiences can.

As my old mentor Carl Johnson used to say, let’s get beyond the “Tyranny of Or”. It is now a truism to say that media is fragmenting (though some people fought the notion) but the key is still to focus on creating the right communications mix.

Parenthetically, there was a nice piece on Adverlab a while ago on “Smelly Packaging” and “Talking Packaging” and their potential role in prompting impulse purchase.

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