Visual Language for Licensed Global Brand Packaging Design

Developing a Visual Language without Verbal Prompts

Since people are visual, and brands are increasingly global, it’s crucial to communicate the brand story as though there isn’t any verbal brand communication on pack. By designing it that way and then adding limited verbal communication that enhances the values of the brand, consumers are far more likely to become engaged. I’m talking about engagement that goes beyond the enticement to take a longer look and pick up the product. I’m talking about visual hooks that elicit an emotional connection to the brand.

Determining the uniqueness, value and personality of the brand

Before creating a propriety language, every package design process should start by answering important questions. What’s unique about the brand? What are its values? What kinds of personality traits does it possess? Who is the targeted consumer for the brand? By understanding these assets, a visual language can be developed and leveraged to align with the brand in a consistent, persuasive manner.

It’s important to deconstruct the brand to get answers to these questions. By peeling away its layers, we get to the heart of what makes every brand unique. By stripping it down to its core, we are able to discern the unique attributes of the brand personality and its values. From that we begin to design a visual language that captures the assets that resonate most with its core constituents to the exclusion of everyone else. Unfortunately, many brands are marketing to reach as many consumers as possible – which is impossible. The world’s most esteemed brands, however, are powerful because – they know exactly who they are, who they are speaking to and they don’t care about anything else. They brand in a highly focused, deliberate manner – by design. 

Because consumers are relentlessly bombarded with visual messages, designers must work to edit and simplify the core brand language that we create. Doing this makes consumer product brands stand-outs among their peers within categories. It also allows the fans of licensed entertainment properties to distinguish their favorites quickly and easily within retail environments. When we’ve arrived at what we know to be the best package design solution, we can then ensure visual brand consistency by developing a style guide. Over time, this leads to something very desirable: brand language fluency among consumers. 

What does “visual language” really mean in package design?

Many reading this article will jump to the conclusion that visual language refers to the creation of a single, potentially iconic element: brand identity, iconography, photography or artwork, color, typography or package structure. Actually, it encompasses all of these things, and yes, a limited but effective amount of verbal brand communication as well. Each visual design component should work together seamlessly to form a unique language. Smart marketers and their package design consultants are upping the ante by maximizing the power of each visual asset. It’s imperative to communicate the brand to consumers in an innovative manner and the ingenious are elevating their brands’ key visual assets in new and exciting ways. 

Consumer product brands are breaking out of category molds by leveraging packaging as their ultimate communication vehicle. Some of the best examples are found within the toy and entertainment industries brand packaging is being elevated to a whole new level. In the process, products with potential become even hotter due to effective packaging that elevates visual language.

What about visual language in licensed brands?

Unlike the packaging for non-licensed, traditional consumer product brands, which are typically merchandised in a single shelf set within a specific category, licensed product packaging has to accommodate a wide range of consumer products in a variety of categories. Licensed product packaging relies even more heavily on the development of a compelling visual language that consumers can readily identify – and become conversant with – throughout retail environments. 

There are great examples of licensed and co-branded consumer product packaging in the marketplace. One would be our recent refresh of the licensed product packaging program for Entertainment One’s hit animated series for preschoolers, PJ Masks. The new package design system we developed leverages a lockup of the property’s three nighttime superhero characters – Owlette, Catboy and Gekko – flying into the packaging on a diagonal in the brand’s signature colors of red, blue and green. This dominant brand cue – what we refer to as “package design architecture” – became the basis for the packaging program’s visual language.

The blister card packaging format features the character lockup in a stacked configuration that fills the entire the left side of the front panel, just beneath the PJ Masks logo. The angle at which the characters are flying is no accident. In fact, their flight path matches the angle of the “P” in the property logo. Note the comic book-styled background pattern in tones of grey on white, which also matches the same angle. Although subtle, the consistent use of this angle for aspects of all key packaging assets delivers real visual impact.

The visual language carries over seamlessly to closed box and window box packaging formats. For tray box and hang tag packaging, the characters are arranged horizontally rather than stacked, while maintaining the same angle. On these packaging formats, the configuration of the design architecture changes to accommodate the nature of their structure, without compromising the packaging program’s visual language.  

Licensees of consumer products representing a variety of categories, from action figures to consumer electronics to food and beverage, have been leveraging the PJ Masks packaging program’s visual language, creating packaging that is consistently executed and memorable. Limited verbal communication augments the visual brand language rather than detracting from it. Regardless of the category, PJ Masks products will be immediately identifiable and easy for consumers to find.

Visual language elevates your brand

Consider the speed of life today. How precious consumers’ time really is. How difficult it is for people to focus when there are so many things to distract them. How many brands are competing for attention. How few are breaking through the perception of marketplace clutter. Why wouldn’t you want to create a visual language to turn basic consumers into raving brand fans? There’s nothing like a wink and a secret handshake with your fans to elevate your brand or licensed property to the next level.

Did you enjoy this month’s issue? Get on the mailing list!