The Battle for Dominance in Co-Branded Package Design

The Battle for Dominance in Co-Branded Package Design

I place a very high value on the discussions I have with my clients about the issues they’’re struggling with as they develop packaging for their products. Whether they’’re with a brand owner or licensee, these conversations help to identify which challenges are most common. And, as a result, we become inspired to consider how best to address them.

Most recently, the topic of co-branded licensed product packaging has been raised by many brand owners. Opportunities to co-brand a licensed property with a consumer product brand are on the rise. When the target audiences for both brands overlap, it’’s considered a perfect fit. A match made in licensing heaven. Each brand benefits from the equity of the other. A win-win, you might say.

The challenges of sharing brand aesthetic in co-branded package design

Just about every recognizable brand in the marketplace knows the value of package design in establishing an emotional connection with consumers and motivating their purchase decisions. These brands have made considerable effort and financial investment in determining which inherent assets and visual cues best connect with consumers on an emotional level in a unique and differentiating manner. They’’ve infused these assets and visual cues into the design of their brand’’s packaging, which they’’ve spent years evolving, testing, refining and standardizing. Suddenly, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. They need to share real estate with another brand on-pack.

Wait… what? Share?

Yes. Share. That’’s what co-branding means. But the crucial issue under heated discussion is: Which brand’’s package design system should dominate the packaging communication hierarchy?

For most licensed product packaging, it’’s expected that the design will be driven by the licensed brand’’s package design system. This is especially true for brands that have very little mindshare among consumers, and therefore thrive on the popularity of the licensed property. But, what’’s the right approach to co-branded packaging when both brands are über-popular? Should it be dominated by the brand with the strictest packaging standardization? Should both brands compromise by giving birth to a hybrid of both designs? Should they just flip a coin?

Allow consumer shopping behavior to guide packaging communication hierarchy

I believe the answer becomes quite clear when the retail environment is taken into consideration. Let’’s face it. This shouldn’’t be a battle over who has the most right to on-pack real estate as stated in a licensing agreement. It should be about selling product. Sometimes you need to put your brand standardization egos to the side and consider what’’s most important: consumer shopping behavior.

Take, for example, a co-branded scenario that marries a globally recognized, category leading construction toy brand with an evergreen entertainment property known for countless animated series and blockbuster movies. Think about it: the construction toy category is merchandized by construction system, then by licensed brand within the shelf set. Why? Because consumers shop the construction toy category by first identifying their favorite construction system, then navigating the shelf set for their favorite themed assortment or licensed property. Under these circumstances, it’’s clear that the package design system of the construction toy brand should dominate the packaging communication hierarchy. Imagine the visual chaos that would ensue if each licensed property’’s packaging standardization were enforced in the construction toy aisle.

Smart consumer product brands that leverage relationships with multiple licensing partners will establish architecture within their package design system to accommodate each licensed brand’’s visual assets. Conversely, smart licensed brand owners will infuse enough flexibility into their package design system so that visual assets can be reconfigured or pared-down to work within co-branded scenarios.

As you can see, there’’s no need for a battle here. We all stand to win. So, let’’s play nicely together.


  • If you’’re a marketer or a brand manager, what’’s your philosophy on co-branded packaging communication hierarchy? Which brand do you feel should dominate and why?
  • Which other examples of well-executed co-branded package design can you cite?

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