Taking Toy Packaging to the Next Level

So you got your toy packaging right. It’’s engaging kids and their parents. It begins the process of building relationships between them and your brand. It’’s memorable, relevant and personal. In short, it’’s sticky.

Congratulations. It’’s terrific when brand managers maximize the effectiveness of their packaging. They understand that package design is truly the most important of visual brand communications for consumers. And a cornerstone to building equity in their property.

Visual design language

There have always been compelling reasons to create a visual design language for consumer product brands. Especially on packaging. The right combination of visual assets: package structure, substrates, color, fonts, imagery and brand identity delineate and separate one brand from among many in every retail category. And more: they come together to make the brand the most desirable choice by creating an emotional connection with consumers. They do it by telling a story that is easily absorbed in a matter of seconds.

Think about the importance of visual design language in this way: it is the interface between the graphics that summarize a brand and the consumer. Design creates an experience. Since consumers interact with packaging before they ever get to the products inside, it is a crucial experiential marketing tool. A unique visual design language optimizes the consumer experience.

But in creating the optimal visual design language, what you choose to leave out is just as crucial as what you decide to include.

The value of editing

Package designers, and marketers, are fond of minimalistic packaging these days. Many toy manufacturers are among them. Simple packaging with bold graphic imagery and fonts dominate the marketplace. But sometimes, package design is too simple. Or rather, it leaves out significant equitable visual assets in favor of minimalism, which is never a good idea.

Astute package design professionals who have a thorough grasp of the most valuable assets of brands know which visual elements are crucial to those brands. They also understand which ones can be eliminated since they are not core to the brand experience. Irrelevant visual elements create clutter and must be edited out. Relevant ones must be seamlessly integrated into a cohesive brand language on pack. Those visuals have a supporting cast of essential verbal brand communication. Together they create a unique and compelling brand experience.

The brand itself dictates how simple and minimal packaging can be. Leveraging the right combination of visual elements can make packaging appear deceptively simple. It’’s hard work to drill down to the core of a brand and to make certain to develop and retain every equitable visual asset. Yet, that is what has to be done before successful package design solutions can be developed.

Fat Brain’’s Spoolz presents an example of minimalistic package design that works. Clear packaging enables kids and their parents to see the toy in its entirety: colorful plastic spools that can be stacked in a myriad of ways. The package structure is unique. Shrink wrap basically outlines the spools on the left-hand side of the package while the toy appears to be boxed on the right. The brand identity features a custom logo and the words “”Endless stackabilities”,” and coupled with the visual brand assets, it tells the story as succinctly and perfectly as possible. Parents are informed in the upper right-hand corner that this toy is suitable for infants from the age of 10 months. While this packaging appears to be quite simple, it’’s actually sophisticated, tactile and highly experiential.

Another terrific example of well-edited package design is that of HEXBUG’’s BattleBots Arena. This toy packaging makes a strong visual statement and needs little verbal brand communication to reinforce its message. A die-cut window shows ““the arena”” of combat as well as the two Battlebots which are on full display. Behind the stage appear tongues of fire to visually communicate the heat of battle. A ““try me”” call out on the lower right-hand side of the package encourages kids to go to the side panel and interact with one of the bots. Other than the HEXBUG logo and the ““Battlebots Arena”” brand there is only one line of verbal communication: ““Head-to-head remote control combat”.” This is well-conceived package design that looks simple but creates an impact.

The pressure to evolve

Remember: as good as your product and product packaging is, it must evolve with your fast-moving, ever-changing customer or risk becoming marginalized. No matter how well you’’re currently doing, it’’s important to challenge yourself to do better. One-upping customer experience by tweaking product and package design keeps your brand fresh and relevant. It also staves off me-too competitors.

While the visual entices consumers first, the other senses should not be ignored. Engaging multiple senses enhances consumer brand experience. Tactile packaging that encourages touch is important for kids. They love to touch the things that visually attract them and if the substrates used in packaging make that touch memorable, or a tactile toy is exposed within packaging, that’’s even better. Scent is another terrific element. Crayola’’s scented markers and crayons are a hit for a reason. “”Try Me”” packaging that comes replete with sound is another way to elevate kids’’ experiences with brands. The more senses that toy manufacturers can bring to packaging to engage kids, the better their experience.

Skyrocket Toys’’ new Pomsies brand does just that. Pomsies feature the heads and tails of cats –– while cashing in on the pom-pom craze. They’’re wearable and interactive toys: 2 elements that up the ante in the collectibles category. When kids touch Pomsies, they’’re already envisioning them as their new, virtual pets. By rubbing the cat’’s nose, mouth or the top of her head, she utters up to 50 cute sounds and phrases. Her eyes change color to tell her owner how she’’s feeling. Lastly, Pomsies feature a special freeze dance mode to play with friends and their Pomsies.

The carded packaging exhorts kids to “”try me”” and “”press my nose, pet me”” which is a highly sensory, emotive experience. During this process, the cat’’s features are discovered very quickly. This is packaging that doesn’’t spell out the interactive assets of the toy. Other than this quick mention: ““Loveable, wearable pom-pom pets””, the packaging is enticing enough to get kids to pick it up and discover its wonderful secrets for themselves. A custom logo in bright pink features a heart in the wrap-around tail formed by the first “”S”” in the brand name. Pastel hearts and swirls form the backdrop for Pomsies. A visual of a young girl holding her Pomsie is irresistible, enabling every child to envision herself with her own special, new pet.

This is smart minimalism in packaging. It’’s smart in what it chooses to communicate and what it omits to say with all of its visual and verbal cues. In engages by touch and sound.

Relevance: the name of the game

Timing is everything. Smart brands release updated versions of their most popular toys in the fall as they plan to bring in that all-important holiday business. Doing so at this crucial time of the year creates buzz and anticipation. It also keeps brands relevant. Spin Master’’s powerful Hatchimals brand gave a sneak peek at its fall launch at the Toy Fair a while back. And a peek is all that kids will get since the packaging features the brand’’s ubiquitous, cracking egg with eyes peering out from within, and that’’s all they can see. Question marks appear alongside the egg rather than the usual depiction of a group of characters, one of which obviously resides inside the egg, only to be revealed when it is fully hatched. Beneath the now-famous logo appears the word “”Mystery””, along with the tagline on the bottom of the package: “”Who Will You Hatch”” further arousing kids’’ curiosity.  A tantalizing glimpse of four new cuddly creatures appears on social media and in the press. But wisely, none of those visuals appear on pack. As a result, the air of mystery is more compelling.

As the popular collectibles category becomes crowded with brands that are vying to be the hit of the coming holiday season, moves like this one help to keep properties relevant and in demand. Great package design goes a long way to creating buzz and engagement while deepening relationships with kids. It elevates every customer experience with the brand. And it all begins by developing a visual design language that will always stand for the brand –– no matter how many new products roll out in the future. And one that can be easily updated to accommodate a fast-changing culture and its savvy, restless consumers. Especially today’’s kids.

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