The use of black in toy package design.

The Dark Side of Toy Package Design

There’s a reoccurring mindset among some of our toy industry clients that’s somewhat baffling to our creative team. Whenever we’re in the midst of a package design refresh, and we determine that the brand would benefit from leveraging black as its dominant color, there’s considerable push-back. It’s as if there’s a fear of the color; that perhaps it’s too harsh for kids or parents to relate to; or that it’s not fun enough or bright enough to draw the attention of consumers. Regardless of the reason, embracing black as a dominant brand color is often viewed as too risky a proposition for brand managers.

In reality, black is used quite often by toy brands as a dominant packaging color. In fact, more often than ever, it seems. Of course, it works best when its usage is purposeful, serving to do more than just differentiate the brand within its category. There are specific scenarios where a heavy use of black within a brand’s package design system makes perfect sense – each of which are meaningful, and a few absolutely essential.

Let’s take a look at when a predominantly black package design system is most effective.

To showcase products that light up

NSI International’s LASER X Laser Tag System turns your home into a laser tag arena. The LASER X Revolution 2-Person Laser Tag Set contains two laser blasters and two chest receiver plates. Although the game can be played in daylight, it looks better in the dark because the colorful glow of the blasters and receivers are easier to see. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that the LASER X packaging uses black as the overall background color to showcase the product. The LASER X logo, centered at the top, is in bright white surrounded by a rainbow glow of color, contrasting perfectly against the black background. The front panel shows two players, engulfed in the darkness of their environment, holding blasters that are lit up in red and blue, while their chest receivers are glowing in green and yellow. Across the bottom: a horizontal strip of blasters glow within a full spectrum of color to show how players can either be on the red or blue team, or infinitely customize the color of their blaster’s light. The overarching visual aesthetic of this package design system is about colorful glowing light, which is highly-effective on black.

This example reminds me of our package design system refresh for Laser Pegs, the LEGO-compatible light-up construction system. Each set contains a light-up component, which makes the translucent-colored bricks on every build glow brightly. We created a logo inspired by the way light plays along the edge of plexiglass, and used black as the perfect foil to showcase the colorful light bursting from within each build.

To convey premium or appeal to a mature audience

Speaking of LEGO, have you ever wished as an adult that you could build an entire LEGO set without a child nearby, completely guilt-free? Well, now you can, with LEGO Sets for Adults – premium LEGO sets that are worthy of being displayed when completed, and designed with adult hands and building capabilities in mind. LEGO Sets for Adults span a broad range of genres, including entertainment, art, design & music, travel & history, Star Wars, science & tech, vehicles, and sports & games. As we all know, LEGO sets are pricey. But, LEGO Sets for Adults come with a premium price tag, with some retailing for upwards of $600.00.

To evoke the proper visual aesthetic for the price tag and the target audience, the packaging for all LEGO Sets for Adults is predominantly black. Behind the photography of each beautifully-designed build is a soft, ambient glow of color to help tie the image into the black background. Also contributing to the premium aesthetic is the fact that the package design system is minimalistic. The product photography is surrounded by quite a bit of empty space, with only the red LEGO logo square in the lower left corner and a solid-colored horizontal band across the bottom, which is filled with a texture of LEGO bricks, and is used to contain product details such as age grading, piece count, and item number.

To contrast with brightly-colored products

When PlayMonster LLC established a relationship with Hasbro to bring exciting, new line extensions to market for the KOOSH brand, it completely refreshed the brand’s package design system. The packaging for the Original KOOSH Ball and a broad range of new products, such as the KOOSH Woosh, KOOSH Paddleand Mondo KOOSH is now matte black, with a glossy black KOOSH ball pattern throughout. Not only does this black packaging give the brand a contemporary, new look, it also creates maximum contrast with the vividly-colored KOOSH products, which makes them hard to miss at retail. And, the colorful KOOSH logo, product name and marketing text are easy to read against the stark black background as well.

To convey uniqueness and exclusivity

In response to the hype surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hasbro introduced Star Wars: The Black Series, a line of 6” action figures, vehicles, Force FX lightsabers and other collectible items based on characters from the Star Wars movies, shows, books, comics and video games from both the Expanded Universe and canon. The Star Wars: The Black Series packaging has been through quite an evolution since 2013, with its latest iteration shifting to closed-box packaging to align with Hasbro’s plastic-free, lower carbon strategy. The overall black color and structural shape – a rectangular box with a right side panel that angles towards the front – remains the same as the previous The Star Wars: The Black Series packaging. However, instead of being visible through an acetate window, these highly-detailed products have been beautifully lit and photographed for the entirely black front panel. A soft gradient of color passes behind the photo in the lower right, and ties in with the horizontal band of segmentation color that designates the movie, show or other media from which the assortment is derived. The angled side panel features an image of the character within a familiar environment. When the entire assortment is collected, these angled side panels form a continuous scene. In this case, the use of black conveys the uniqueness and exclusivity of the Star Wars: The Black Series product line among the broad range of Hasbro’s Star Wars products.

To align with brand attributes

Sometimes a color is predominant within a brand’s package design system because it perfectly aligns with the brand’s core attributes. The color black has been associated with Mattel’s Monster High fashion doll brand since its launch in 2010. And, it makes perfect sense, since the brand is inspired by monster movies, sci-fi horror, thriller fiction, folklore and myths. In fact, I can’t recall a single themed Monster High product line that didn’t leverage black as a predominant color for its packaging. The original Monster High packaging is still my favorite. It was unique among doll packaging during that time because it was very bold and geometric in nature, with patterns of fun icons, bold stripes and plaid, its coffin-shaped die-cut window and limited color palette of black, white and one or two bold colors. Regardless of how many Monster Highpackage design iterations we’ve seen over the years, black has always been the color most associated with the brand.

Black is the new black

If you’ve been considering black as the dominant color for your brand’s packaging, but wavering because you’re concerned about the risk, maybe it’s not so risky after all. Ask yourself: is the rationale for switching your packaging to “dark mode” purposeful, rather than arbitrary or simply an attempt to be different? Would the color black benefit your brand in any of the ways described above? If so, don’t be so afraid of the dark.

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