Licensed Product Packaging: Abandoning the “Core” Look

Licensed Product Packaging: Abandoning the “Core” Look

In a retail landscape filled with traditional consumer product brands turned licensed brands, it’’s virtually impossible for consumers to tell the difference between core products and licensed products bearing the same brand name. Quite often, licensed products appear to be extensions of a brand’’s core product line. The reason is simple: when a brand owner’’s core product packaging has gained visual equity in the marketplace among consumers, a licensed product packaging program that mimics the equitable look in every way is established. Every design asset of the core product’’s packaging finds its way into the brand’’s licensed product packaging program, with very little margin for reinterpretation by licensee partners.

The rationale here is this: if a unified, branded look is maintained across all product categories, regardless of the retail channel, all products will reap the benefit of its visual consistency…… maximized consumer recognition.

This makes sense, right? It’’s the most obvious and commonly adopted package design strategy among brand owners who manufacture their own products while enjoying a robust brand licensing business. But is it always the most appropriate strategy for a brand’’s licensed product packaging program?

Factoring target audience into a brand’s licensed product packaging program

If a traditional consumer product brand has licensee partnerships across a variety of categories, yet the products appeal to the same target audience as the core product line, then the licensed product packaging program should visually align. Consistently implemented visual cues will resonate with the same consumers just as effectively in every category within a mass retail environment as they will in specialty, grocery, or any other channel.

Conversely, if the target audience for a brand’’s licensed products is different than that of its core products, then the licensed product packaging program should appeal specifically to that audience.

A good example would be the licensed product packaging program we  developed as part of the licensing style guide for Spin Master’’s Etch A Sketch brand. The core Etch A Sketch product, albeit a classic toy with heritage that dates back to 1960, is marketed primarily to kids, and is found in the toy aisle at most mass market retailers. Its core product packaging speaks to a young audience in a toyetic manner through a primary color palette of red, yellow and blue with white accents. Graphic treatments are fun and messaging is all about creativity.

The Etch A Sketch licensing program makes a lifestyle statement for the brand. It’’s not about marketing the toy itself; it’’s about celebrating the Etch A Sketch brand DNA and extending its iconic brand experience into the consumer’’s way of life. Unlike the core product, it isn’’t meant to appeal only to kids, but rather the kid in all of us who knows and loves the brand, regardless of our age. The contrast in target audience between that of the core and licensed Etch A Sketch products required a completely different design approach be implemented for its licensed product packaging program.

Spin Master plans to establish licensee partnerships for the Etch A Sketch brand with companies developing products in a wide variety of categories, including kids and adult fashion and accessories, room décor, housewares, electronics accessories, and collectibles, with a presence in mass, mid-tier and specialty channels. With this in mind, we created a package design system driven by design architecture made up of the familiar continuous vertical and horizontal line work that the Etch A Sketch produces. The line work, in dark grey, meanders around the perimeter of each package panel, becoming more adventurous as it heads toward the upper left corner, where it wraps around the Etch A Sketch logo. The logo appears in dark grey – rather than the bold yellow used on the core product packaging – and resides in a light grey, radius-cornered rectangle reminiscent of the Etch A Sketch screen. Accents of light grey, red and yellow are strategically sprinkled throughout to remind us of the classic product’’s color palette. The overall background is white, with verbal communication appearing in dark grey and red. We leveraged a san-serif font with just enough retro character to evoke the brand’’s heritage. Callouts appear on a yellow radius-cornered rectangle traced with its own continuous line work.


The Etch A Sketch licensed product packaging is a complete departure from its core counterpart. But it works well because its employs a much more sophisticated aesthetic. Its design is simple and minimalistic, yet it still incorporates a sense of fun and energy while leaning on familiar visual cues that are sure to make an emotional connection with consumers.


  • If you’’re a brand owner, marketer or package designer, what are your philosophies with regard to licensed product packaging adhering to, or departing from, the look of the core brand’’s packaging?
  • Are there other occasions where you feel it’’s appropriate to abandon the core look? If so, please give an example or two.

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