Many elements of visual brand design are presented on a large canvas, but packaging is an exception. Especially in the toy and licensed consumer product categories. Working within space constraints and still being able to design effective packaging is the challenge for marketers and package designers. But in actuality, less real estate can be a blessing in disguise for designers. It challenges us to deliver our best, most creative work. And it puts the onus on us to look at every key visual and verbal design element and edit down to the absolute essentials; to drill down to the ones that best express the brand. It also enables us to push the boundaries of category expectations, which can lead to incredible successes.
Breaking the mold
Some of the brands that develop the best package design in minimal space are classic properties. Jell-O is a 120 year old brand that could have easily lost relevance with recent generations. But the brand continues to flourish by literally thinking outside of the box. Rather than relying on new flavors and neon colors for its gelatin and pudding dessert mixes, Jell-O decided to capitalize on the enjoyable, fun aspects of its brand to appeal to today’s kids, while reminding adults about everything they loved about it growing up.
A new line of Jell-O edible toys, launching this summer, is already creating considerable buzz on social media. Jell-O’s own marketing campaign, dubbed “Think It. Make It. Eat It”, has debuted with three different kinds of toys: Jell-O Play Build & Eat Kits, Jell-O Play Cutters and Jell-O Play. The company created this product line with a three-pronged goal in mind – to engage kids, to promote their creativity and to be inexpensive. Priced at under $5.00 retail, parents can easily indulge their children’s desire to play with their food!
The Play Build & Eat Kits contain plastic molds that enable kids to create building blocks that they can stack and use to build whatever comes out of their imaginations. A special form of gelatin lets kids play with their creations and then gobble them up! Play Build & Eat Kits are theme based. Kids can explore the ocean, go on jungle safaris, work at construction sites, or take to the sky. Jell-O Play Cutters kits include plastic cookie cutters in various, fun shapes like dinosaurs. The Jell-O Play kits are pudding-based and include edible stickers and even gummies. They are based on themes like camping, that features a chocolate pudding based smores-like dessert that kids can make, and of course, eat. There’s a “dirt” kit that features chocolate pudding with chocolate cookie crumbs, gummy worms and snails. How appealing is all of this to kids? Ooey, gooey, messy to play with, and edible. There isn’t a kid alive who doesn’t love this kind of play.
A conceptually cool idea like this deserves unique package design. The marketers at Kraft Heinz understood how to develop effective visual brand design within the space constraints of the packaging for these Jell-O line extensions. Colorful artwork depicting kids playing, exploring or engaging in hands-on activities tells consumers immediately that these products, and the brand itself, are not your grandmother’s Jell-O. This is packaging that tell stories; adventures in which kids can easily see themselves. Images of the fun-filled contents of the kits as well as artwork showing the finished projects provoke an instantaneous, unmistakable sequence to purchase, thanks to packaging that says: see me, feel me, buy me. That’s what kids and their parents will do when they interact with this packaging.
Toying with one’s food
We’re all familiar with numerous toy brands that have successfully launched licensed brand extensions into many consumer product categories – including food and beverages. And along comes Funko, the company that is known for its licensed pop culture products in multiple categories of consumer products: vinyl figures, action toys, plush, apparel, housewares and accessories. The company mantra: “Our aim is to provide consumers tangible ways to take their fandom offline” has now been extended to include pop cult cereals.
You might ask what’s new here; the cereal aisles of supermarkets are lined with licensed character offerings. The answer to that is everything. In brand’s inimitable style, the cereals are called FunkO’s because of the shape of the cereal as well as a clever play on the brand name. But the product concept and packaging are a stand-out in a saturated category.
Funko, in collaboration with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, has hit on something that will appeal to passionate fans of some of the world’s top pop brands. The multigrain cereals come in bright hues that are tied to the pop characters for which they are named. The popularity of brightly-colored foods is on the rise and it’s no surprise that Funko is on trend here. Freddy Krueger cereal, for example, is a startling red. Mega Man cereal is a vivid blue. 40 pop characters are being featured in the new cereal line in all, including DC Comics’ Batman and Batgirl, Beetlejuice, Cuphead, Huckleberry Hound, Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, among others. FunkO’s branded cereals have started to turn up in retail stores this summer.
Each character dominates the front panel of the packaging in a decisive manner, hovering over its signature bowl of cereal. And every figure is represented with Funko’s unique take on the key visual assets associated with each. Unique artwork and typography, representative of each property, makes them easily recognizable to consumers. The Funko logo appears in the upper left-hand corner of each box. But super-imposed over the cereal bowls in the lower right-hand corner, we see the FunkO’s sub brand. A call-out on the lower left lets consumers know that mini PocketPop! figures that represent each property are tucked inside of the package. I can easily see how the fans of these properties might like to collect the cereal boxes because of what they represent. They’re way too cool to consume. Is it an edible product? Or is it a collectible? That’s up to consumers to decide for themselves.
In a brilliant marketing move, Funko is debuting its cereals in retail stores other than conventional supermarkets. In a perfect alignment with other pop cult brands, the company has signed exclusivity deals for July 2018 with kid-fave retailers GameStop, Hot Topic, BAM!, Entertainment Earth, Box Lunch and f.y.e. which is certain to drive buzz and demand. This is just the ticket to getting placement in supermarkets nationwide, and to creating new energy in their cereal aisles.
Plush, but not cuddly
There’s no doubt that interactive plush is hot in the toy industry. Plush brands range from cute and cuddly to interesting and odd. And then along came Grumblies, a really cool brand launch from Pomsies. This is interactive plush, but they aren’t cuddly in the least. Each character is grouchy by nature. When kids, who are invited to prod, poke, shake, tilt and roll them do so, Grumblies go into meltdown mode. Each of the four Grumblies has their own unique personality, sounds and design. The red Scorch, comes from ash and lava; no doubt he breathes fire when aggravated. The green Tremor rumbles when provoked. The purple Bolt shoots electrical charges into the air when he melts down and the blue Hydro creates tidal waves when he’s upset.
Grumblies, launching in late summer, are sure to be a hit with kids. But it’s the packaging that really sells the brand in a clever manner. Smart, uniquely structured packaging invites kids to “try me” and “poke my belly.” Additional verbal exhortations on pack like: Don’t (crossed out) Make Them Meltdown!, and a short list of rules: Do Not Shake, Do Not Poke, Do Not Flip, you know that’s exactly what kids are going to do! In fact, they’ll find it irresistible to do just that!
The Grumblies brand identity in a craggy, custom block typeface featuring a dour face peering out at the world from atop the lettering. The ”stone backdrop” and the irregular outline that it forms on the packaging all work together to create a unique language that is a perfect visual expression of the brand. When the visual design elements are coupled with the verbal brand communication on pack, they create an impact at retail.
Small is the new big
As product packaging becomes smaller in many consumer product categories due to sustainability pressures, brand managers might take a page from the toy industry with renewed focus on the creation of unique, visual languages. Toy companies themselves will have to take heed of ever-increasing competition so that they can up their game when it comes to package design. Currently, some of the best design work can be found on the smallest of packaging. That includes toy packaging. And I expect that will continue.