As design consultants, we’ve placed our emphasis on developing package design systems that tell the brand story with a unique, ownable aesthetic. We’ve conducted pre-design research, analyzing competitors’ package designs before developing unique concepts to make our clients’ brands stand apart, but three major factors, while not new, have grown to a point of critical mass.
Firstly, retail environments have maxed out assortments in every category, making the purchasing process more complicated for consumers. Secondly, retailers compete directly with manufacturers’ private label brands in increasingly sophisticated packaging. Thirdly, many retailers have cut employee numbers and hours so that stores have essentially become self-service, increasing perception among consumers that the fewer salespeople present are less competent and knowledgeable about products. These considerations and the fact that competition is chasing fewer consumer dollars have put the onus on us to think about more effective ways to leverage package design.
Given all of this, influential retailers are playing a role in determining final package design, something that manufacturers have traditionally done on their own. But retailers want more than effective packaging now: they need and want our help to expertly merchandise branded products. We are charged with not only developing packaging style guides, but with merchandising aids to assist sell-through at retail.
The licensing factor
Consumer product brands enjoy an advantage that licensed brands do not. They are usually merchandised within one category so that packaging can be developed to effectively segment individual offerings within product lines, making them easy to shop while presenting a consistent brand look and feel. Since retailers merchandise brands in blocks, they are more effective at attracting consumers’ attention. Not so with licensed brands.
The challenge: with consumer product offerings in multiple categories across retail environments, how to make the branded property stand out for its fans?
The merchandising of licensed properties: planograms, endcaps and POP (Point of Purchase) displays might sound conventional, but we can design them in ingenious ways to delight consumers. We should present the perfect scenario of a full complement of available licensed products within a category which most retailers aren’t likely to fully adopt, but the visual impact can hardly be denied. We can also show cross-merchandising ideas to give the licensed property more presence in stores. Store-within-store or in-store boutique concepts deliver the full power of the property and optimize sales potential. Visuals of these along with more modest footage, end caps and POP displays should be shown to retailers. This is important in several ways.
Merchandising tools show retailers and licensees that the licensor is fully committed to partnering with them to sell consumer products. Visual concepts “sell” retailers, exciting them and making them want to commit to the licensed property, at the exclusion of others, because they feel that they are being fully supported. When design consultants are able to show visuals depicting merchandised assortments, it creates additional value for the licensed brand. Since few retailers are merchandising the hottest licensed properties in store-within-store boutiques due to space constraints, we can demonstrate that there are other ways to help them maximize sales. Merchandising visuals lead to discussions with potentially valuable insights and new ideas since retailers are closest to the consumer.
Since we are the professionals who are designing licensed product packaging, we should also create concepts for banners, POP displays, cross-merchandised displays and end-cap designs. Otherwise, visual merchandising aids might not be consistent with the unique aesthetic and package design systems that are developed, and that simply shouldn’t happen. Consistency is vitally important and when pains have been taken to develop optimal package design solutions that leverage the key visual and verbal assets of the branded property, they should likewise be an integral part of display systems.
Leveraging entertainment assets to grab fans’ attention
Whether virtual or real, many of the most significant licensed properties come from the worlds of entertainment. When we identify the key visual assets that endear them most to their fans, these properties can come alive and they really have to if we’re going to be able to grab the attention of consumers who are bombarded by countless visual stimuli in retail stores.
Capturing the personality of a property elicits immediate recognition coupled with an emotional response. We can leverage visual elements to surprise and delight; we can infuse humor and fun, action or energy, making the shopping experience an extension of the entertainment associated with the property. We shouldn’t rely on imagery of the property alone. Using the magic of storytelling based on the property’s characteristics, philosophy and backstory are compelling. Both packaging and merchandising visuals give us valuable opportunities to do these things and connect with fans of the brand.
When working directly with licensors to develop their property’s packaging program, we should discuss the importance of unifying all of the significant visual and verbal brand elements in packaging with the creation of merchandising tools in a cohesive manner. Package design architecture, color palette, fonts, imagery and important brand communication can be standardized within a packaging program style guide. Then we can demonstrate how those assets can be leveraged to create banners, POP displays, store signage, and cross-merchandised, dedicated store footage.
But how to get retailers to commit to dedicated shelf or floor space for a licensed property? Suggesting to them that they will benefit from increased foot traffic in their stores and reap higher sales in the current competitive environment with dedicated physical space that they might rotate in the future – a ”Red Hot” section – whether that means 6’ of shelving, an end cap or floor space – and showing them how cross-merchandising products for a specific licensed property can spike their sales makes them think. Creative ideas that show ways in which to maximize assortments in limited space matter to retailers, as well.
Our packaging program design for a legacy property, Thunderbirds Are Go, illustrates these points perfectly. We were engaged by ITV Studios to develop the licensed packaging program to support the CG animated series based on the 1960’s TV Supermarionation adventure series that was an instant hit with kids who were enthralled by new technologies and space travel. The newly retooled ITV Studios series, 50 years later, combines computer generated characters and craft with live-action sets to capture the storyline from the original series with a modern twist.
The storyline centers around five brothers: John, Alan, Gordon, Virgil and Scott Tracy, collectively known as International Rescue. Each brother has a special role and area of expertise. They take on missions to foil bad guys on a global scale, protecting Earth and its citizens with the help of high tech craft specific to each brother’s capabilities. The Tracy’s operate from their home base, Tracy Island, located in an isolated area of the South Pacific. Original characters Grandma Tracy, Colonel Casey, Lady Penelope and her butler, Parker, are back along with Brains, the irrepressible inventor. New characters also appear in the retooled series, which stays true to the iconic story, yet benefits from contemporary updates. The Tracy brothers now have slick new uniforms with utility belts replacing their sashes, and TB1 through TB5 have all been overhauled as well. The new series unfolds in the 2060s with high tech gadgetry undreamed of in 1964 to dazzle modern audiences.
Color plays a dominant role identifying each of the Tracy brothers and their craft, so our design solution leveraged it for the packaging program. By using vertical colored striping as the package design architecture and CG illustrations of the lead characters, past fans of Thunderbirds Are Go, as well as a new generation of kids, were able to hone right in on licensed merchandise packaging in retail stores. Additional visual cues included a gritty metal texture as overall background similar to that of the Tracy craft. The product field was based on the design of the Tracy brothers’ user interface technology superimposed over imagery of Tracy Island. Individual products were highlighted through inserts featuring character and craft-specific colors. Showing examples of package structures with window box panels, die-cut blister cards helped to guide licensees as they packaged their own consumer products.
Upon completion of the Thunderbirds Are Go packaging program design, standardization guidelines were created for licensee partners to leverage in the implementation of their licensed product packaging. The guidelines clearly highlight all package design assets, their proper usage, and the role of meaningful color within the package design system, while 3D- and exploded-view packaging templates explain how these assets work together in a modular fashion to accommodate a variety of packaging formats, including an elaborate and standard blister card, closed box, window box and hang tag, as well as a belly band and sock rider.
Also covered in the standardization guidelines are examples of point of sale materials, including free-standing and countertop displays, endcap and aisle headers, blade arms, floor graphics and ceiling hangers to assist retailers to merchandise Thunderbirds Are Go products effectively to drive strong sales. Most importantly, fans were able to zero in on consumer product packaging and merchandising that spoke directly to them.
It’s the last 5% that ensures retail merchandizing success
Point of purchase is so important that wise marketers cite the adage: success or failure depends upon the final 5% of effort to reach the consumer more than the 95% that preceded it. That last 5% will either prompt consumers to buy, strongly influenced by an emotional reaction to a brand or a licensed property, or to walk away because they can’t quickly identify it and be moved by it. Licensing design programs now shouldn’t begin and end with a library of product and package design assets; they really should extend to the retail merchandising aids that are necessary to sell the property through to ensure success.