As one of the leading design consultancies to the consumer product and entertainment industries, we are continuously addressing the questions that arise as we interact with our licensing industry clients, many of whom are among our most avid BOLT! readers. After many in-depth conversations during the course of this year about topics related to our core disciplines of style guide and packaging program development, we decided to dedicate two issues of our newsletter to the questions we’ve heard most frequently. This 2-part series, framed as an interview with me, began last month as I addressed questions related to style guide development. This month’s issue focuses on questions our clients raised most often about the development of packaging programs for their licensed brands. So, let’s get to the questions!
What should be included in a licensed brand’s packaging program?
Much like a consumer product style guide is a licensed brand’s tool kit for consumer product development, a licensed brand’s packaging program presents licensee partners with everything they need to develop the packaging for their licensed products in a standardized, visually consistent manner, whether it’s included as part of the consumer product style guide or presented as a separate, stand-alone packaging guide.
There are two specific components to every licensed brand’s packaging program that work together to establish visual consistency and standardization: its package design assets and its package templates. Package design assets are all of the visual components needed to build a product’s package design, including the property logo, font families, color palette, package design architecture, character artwork, product name and descriptor, call-out violators, inset frames, background, inserts, age grading and legal text. Package templates are flat and 3D-views of the licensed brand’s key packaging formats that standardize the way the package design assets interact with each other within the design system.
Over the course of our 30-year history, our approach to package design development and standardization for licensed brands has evolved into a distinctive, proprietary methodology. Through our approach, we create licensed product packaging programs that are easy for licensees to follow, while ensuring a consistent look at retail, regardless of package configuration or consumer product category. When we produce a separate, stand-alone packaging guide, we first introduce the package design assets to licensees, one-by-one, in the order in which they will be implemented into a product’s package design. As each asset is introduced, its standardization guidelines are conveyed, and its placement within the package design is indicated. We then introduce the package templates, which show how all of the package design assets work together in a standardized manner, with additional verbal support through notes within their margins.
How can I ensure that consumers will recognize my licensed brand in every consumer product category?
Being visually consistent with how your licensed brand’s package design assets are standardized is a good way to ensure that consumers will recognize your brand’s licensed products, regardless of where they’re merchandized throughout the retail environment. However, our approach to licensed product package design takes this thinking quite a bit further by integrating package design architecture into the design of every packaging program. Package design architecture is a prominent graphic device that derives from attributes most closely associated with a licensed brand, and works in conjunction with the property logo to establish a distinctive, highly-recognizable visual presence for the brand at retail. Think: the birch tree on Disneys Frozen II packaging, or the double-radiused border on the classic Star Wars packaging.
Distinctive package design architecture has the potential to connect with consumers on an emotional level. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it’s what consumers look for when searching for their favorite licensed brands at retail.
How can I be sure that my licensed brand’s package design will accommodate every packaging format?
The key to the success of every licensed brand’s packaging program is to infuse modularity into its package design assets. Doing so provides licensees with the ability to apply the package design to any potential structural configuration. This means that every package design asset must be developed in a manner that takes into consideration the need for them to be reconfigured to work not only on the standard packaging configurations, but also on extreme horizontal or extreme vertical formats, without compromising the overarching communication hierarchy or design aesthetic. As you create your package design assets, test them in a variety of packaging formats, including those that are common as well as those that are oddly-shaped or have insufficient space for communication. In other words, test, test, then test again.
It’s also helpful to add extra length or width to design assets to accommodate any unforeseen structural scenarios. When creating backgrounds, be sure there’s enough bleed. When developing package design architecture, be sure to consider how it locks up with the property logo or how it looks juxtaposed to other design assets. And consider standard as well as alternative placements for insets and call-out violators so they can work around the placement of product and product photography.
How strict should I be with the standardization of my licensed brand’s packaging program?
All licensees benefit from visual consistency of your licensed brand’s packaging program in the marketplace. It’s what captures mindshare of your target consumers and makes it intuitive for them to find your brand from category to category.
Standardizing the implementation of your licensed brand’s packaging program ensures that the package design assets are utilized properly and that the visual aesthetic is maintained by all licensees. Standardization guidelines need to be clear and easy for licensees to follow. But, there are multiple schools of thought with regard to which standardization methodology to use. While some are rigid and others a bit more flexible, brand owners are sometimes too strict with their standardization, making it difficult for licensees to interpret the design system in a way that allows them to market their products properly.
Some brand owners tend to overcomplicate their packaging program’s standardization guidelines. They rely too heavily on extensive verbal instruction and mathematical equations to determine proper scale and proportion of package design assets. Doing so puts way too much responsibility on licensee partners, and makes it more challenging and time-consuming for the brand owner’s internal team to manage and approve packaging submissions.
Keep standardization as visual as possible and rely more on templates than verbal instruction. Your licensee partners will thank you and their chances of being successful will be much greater.
Which brand should dominate the package design of a co-branded licensed product?
For most licensed product packaging, it is 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, thus the rationale for entering into an agreement with a popular licensed brand. But, what’s the right approach to co-branding when both brands are highly-recognizable? Determining the right course isn’t as simple as it may seem. Therefore, brand owners must have a co-branding strategy in place. What to do in this scenario becomes clear when the retail environment is taken into consideration. Put your brand ego to the side and consider what’s most important here: consumer shopping behavior. First and foremost, it should be about selling product. Give the consumer what they want, even if it means conceding to the licensee partner’s package design system to make that happen.
Our rule of thumb with regard to co-branding: if a licensee has a well-established package design system with built-in design architecture to accommodate multiple licensed brands – with all of them cohesively adhering to that system – then your licensed brand should adhere to it as well. Otherwise, your brand’s package design will be a visual anomaly among the rest of your licensee partner’s products, consumers will be confused, and sales will suffer.
Why am I getting negative feedback about my licensed brand’s packaging from retailers and licensees?
There are a variety of reasons why retailers and licensees might have a distaste for your licensed brand’s packaging program. But none more prevalent than a lack of visual consistency among products from various licensee partners. This is typically a direct result of poorly-established standardization guidelines, or worse … the brand owner doesn’t see the value of having a cohesive, standardized packaging program in place.
Brand owners of this mindset often make the mistake of reimagining their property’s package design for every licensee. Meaning: they evaluate each partner’s product line, then develop a package design that works best to market their products on an individual basis.
Visual brand equity can never be achieved when developing packaging for a licensed brand in this manner. Each licensee’s design will have a “one-off” look that incorporates visual elements related more to their brand than to the licensed brand. Package design assets that are related to the licensed brand will appear in different areas of the design from one licensee’s packaging to that of another, creating a visually disjointed look at retail.
This approach will negatively impact the brands of both the licensor and licensee because the packaging will fail to resonate with consumers from category to category due to a lack of visual consistency. Sales will suffer. Retailers and licensee partners won’t be happy.
Visual consistency is key to the success of every licensed brand. Licensees may “think” they want to control the way a licensed brand is applied to their product’s packaging. But, the fact is, all licensee partners benefit from their packaging being visually consistent with the packaging of all other licensees. Therefore, brand owners must take control of their property’s visual brand presence at retail by having a well-designed and properly standardized packaging program in place.
I hope you enjoyed this 2-part series. We cherish the feedback we receive from our readers related to our areas of focus. If you have any comments or other questions you’d like to have answered, we would love to hear from you!