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Love, hate and the mundane in packaging

Polarizing Designs vs. the Mundane

It is not exactly breaking news that when car companies design cars, they need to segment their consumers, and produce designs that appeal to those segments.

So, when BMW designs the 3-chassis, it targets younger professionals who want to have a sporty image. Naturally, older consumers and people beyond the original target group also buy the product, because of the original target’s halo effect.

Generally, however, strong design elements incorporated into a design to appeal to the target may create polarizing responses especially from people outside that target group. This type of passionate love or hate is generally missing from mundane designs, being replaced by indifference, and perhaps a heavier weight on product utility.

As an example, let’s look at Chevrolet. Chevy designs for a broader audience, even though, it also segments. But it can not afford to have edgy, loud, pronounced designs. Instead, it opts for pleasing as many people in as many wide segments as it can. In its quest to please more people, it arguably creates less hate, but also less love, and sits more squarely in the mundane. To overcome that, the brand would need to emphasize utility, such as focusing on how much dirt the Chevy trucks can haul in respect to the competition.

Uninvolved Products

When consumers buy cars, or other durable products for that matter, they go through a considered purchase process. They look at a variety of products over time, consider pro’s and con’s of each product, and eventually make a purchase decision.

The same can be said, to a limited extent, for products such as iPods, etc., where the purchase is still a considered purchase, despite the cost of the product being significantly less that the cost of a car. For those products, the packaging needs to reflect and match the product.

However, when people buy a low involvement product, let’s say a carton of milk, or a can of cola, how polarizing should the design be?

The answer is, it depends.

When Is It Appropriate to Polarize?

If the product is heavily branded, then the packaging needs to reflect not only the branding, but the polarizing effects of the design. A good example of this are energy drinks packaged in highly polarizing designs. This can also be seen in soft drinks, and even in food items like orange juice, where there is a higher value add, and therefore a higher branding potential.

Trust and Honesty Do Not Polarize Well

If the product does not yield to branding well, and especially if it is a ‘honest-to-goodness’ food product, then there is no room for polarizing designs, as the package design needs to reflect honesty.

Typical examples of this is staple food products like milk, or eggs. From a consumer’s perspective, an egg is an egg, an egg is honest, is defined by itself, not by branding and certainly not by the packaging it comes in. Non-polarizing, honest, non-flashy and functional designs (i.e. good package usability) need to be seeked. Anything that reinforces honesty in the food would help support the belief that what’s being packed is indeed wholesome.

Conclusion

There is room for polarizing designs in packaging, especially in highly branded items, fully recognizing that it will create a love and hate relationship with the product, just like the product itself would.

For products that resist strong branding (i.e. an egg is an egg), familiar, trust generating designs, at the expense of sometimes being mundane, are the foundations of love.

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