Every brand that chooses to enter the world of licensing needs to have its own packaging program. And I’m not talking about a simple rectangle with the property logo and a background pattern placed inside of it that some licensed brand owners call a packaging program. I’m talking about a well-conceived and executed package design system, with dedicated package design assets, templates representing a variety of relevant packaging formats, and clear standardization instructions to support its implementation. This is the only way to ensure that a licensed brand’s packaging will be visually consistent and highly-recognizable in every consumer product category.
Think about how many licensed products are in the market place at any given moment. Then consider the wide range of consumer product categories in which a single licensed brand might occupy shelf space. Now, imagine the visual disarray that would take place at retail if a standardized approach to package design wasn’t employed by each licensed brand. How would any of these brands capture the minds and hearts of consumers? Without a standardized packaging program, many different packaging solutions would appear – all unrelated to the brand and its values, and all unrelated to each other. There would be no brand recognition and sales would certainly suffer.
Fortunately, savvy licensed brand owners know this. They’ve invested in standardized packaging programs for their licensed brands, whether they exist as stand-alone packaging style guides or within the packaging section of the brand’s consumer product style guide. Simply having a packaging program in place, however, may not be enough for the brand to be successful in today’s marketplace. There’s one more critical thing that needs to be considered for a licensed brand to be successful – its approach to standardizing its packaging.
Obviously, it’s not effective enough to provide licensees with a single packaging example, then expect them to know how to extend the design to other packaging formats. The overall visual approach should be flexible enough to work across the types of packaging found in the brand’s key categories. And these should be included as templates within the packaging program’s guidelines. Also, the package design assets need to work in a modular manner so that any conceivable packaging configuration can be accommodated.
With all of this in place, one of the biggest challenges that brand owners still face is finding that perfect balance between a rigid approach to standardization and one that gives licensees quite a bit of creative freedom. Too rigid an approach to package design standardization doesn’t allow for enough flexibility for brand to properly market its products. Too lenient and approach to package design standardization, and you’re guaranteed a completely disjointed visual presence at retail.
What I find to be most important is for brand owners to support licensees in package design implementation rather than to merely reinforce restrictions. The packaging guidelines should demonstrate that they are valued partners and assure them that their packaging will align with that of every other licensee’s products, regardless of category, leading to greater brand recognition and sell-through. But the guidelines also need to infuse enough flexibility in the interpretation of design implementation to allow unique scenarios inherent to the licensee’s brand to be accommodated.
A good example of this would be the package design Truitful Drinks created for their PJ Masks fruit drinks. Following the global packaging style guide we recently developed for our design refresh of Entertainment One’s PJ Masks packaging program, Truitful Drinks created drink pouch designs for 3 different fruit drink varieties. Although the packaging guidelines do not include examples of the drink pouch packaging format, the packaging templates included in the guide provided enough direction for Truitful Drinks to properly create the front panel design. However, they needed to incorporate a combination of fruit illustrations to convey each variety and establish appetite appeal, which were placed just above the variety name. They also needed to communicate to consumers that each variety contains Vitamins A, C & E with no added sugar and no artificial sweeteners. They utilized 3 stacked custom-configured call-out violators for this messaging. To add further distinction between varieties, they added a subtle color gradient in the upper left corner of the design. Of course, the new PJ Masks packaging program didn’t address these unique scenarios within its standardization guidelines, yet it did provide enough flexibility for Truitful Drinks to properly impart important product information to consumers.
Standardization guidelines demonstrate how the property logo, package design architecture, color palette, fonts, insets, call-out violators, character artwork and background imagery work together, ensuring visual consistency on every packaging format. But, the need for visual consistency doesn’t mean that the packaging program’s standardization guidelines should result in package design that’s sterile or boring. In fact, brand owners should consider the need for some aspect of the package design to become “ownable” to the licensee’s brand when necessary. Perhaps a distinctive package structure is needed for a brand to stand out amongst the competitive offering. Or there may be a need for segmentation within the licensee’s brand’s product line, which would require the use of iconography, fanciful segment names or even color coding. These unique variables should be allowed as long as the overarching look of the licensed brand’s packaging and its standardization is not compromised.
Standardization should always take present and future needs into account, as well as the potential for line extensions, unforeseen package configurations, sizes and substrates, and co-branding scenarios. Although these considerations may not be addressed in the standardization guidelines as visual depictions with formal, written instructions, the brand owners brand assurance team should be available to work with licensees to address their unique marketing objectives. Creativity should be encouraged, while keeping the overall visual integrity of the packaging program in mind. Enhancements, not compromises, should be allowed. There should be a collaborative dialogue that starts with the licensee’s submission and continues with constructive feedback with both the brand owner’s and licensee’s best interests at heart.