A New Strategy: Theme-Based Package Structure Design

When we think of a strong structural design strategy for a toy or entertainment brand’’s retail packaging, we imagine a dynamic, cleverly-conceived structural shape inspired by a dominant aspect of the brand that will resonate immediately with consumers. We envision that structural shape working seamlessly from blister card to window box to any other conceivable packaging format. With this approach to structural design strategy, visual consistency is key. The more consistently it is implemented, the more likely consumers will begin to associate the structural design strategy with the brand. Consumers will be able to quickly identify the brand as they navigate the over-saturated aisles of mass retail environments from category to category.

Developing an effective structural design strategy is inherently challenging. Some solutions are too complex and cost-prohibitive, while some may be too simple to be distinctive. Others may need to be aesthetically compromised as they are modified to accommodate certain packaging formats. When done properly, however, they have the ability to be distinguishing among the competitive offering and enhance the consumer experience with the brand.

As package designers, it is our responsibility to be disruptive at retail. Yet, even with a disruptive mindset, it is becoming increasingly challenging to engage consumers in a way that keeps them interested in a brand while perusing store shelves. And it is even more challenging to connect with them in a way that draws them into the brand’’s story.

Leveraging a common theme instead of a distinctive shape

What if we tossed aside for a moment the notion that a strong structural strategy must always be visually consistent -– that it must adopt a single, distinctive shape and leverage it in a similar manner across all packaging formats? What if, instead of establishing visual consistency, we create visual continuity in the form of a common theme that is maintained across a brand’’s retail packaging? Could this approach be as successful in resonating with consumers as a more traditional approach to structure design strategy? Would it be effective in mass retail environments where products of the same toy and entertainment brand are merchandised throughout the store?

Structural design strategy that visually tells a story

The DreamWorks Animation release of Trolls World Tour starring Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake took in over $100,000 in its first three days as it played in a handful of drive-in theaters during the pandemic. And it dominated the VOD charts on Amazon Prime, Spectrum, and FandangoNOW. Although its opening weekend take pales in comparison to a theatrical release followed by home viewing, the Troll’’s cinematic sequel is still a smashing success. And I would have to say the same for Hasbro’’s approach to the packaging for its Troll’’s World Tour product line.

The film’’s licensed product packaging program is visually dramatic to say the least. The branding has an over-the-top rock concert vibe, with its glitter and rainbow-neon identity over a stark black background. And the overall packaging background is an undulating, glittery rainbow gradient, setting the stage for the Troll’’s characters in all their energetic rock star glory. But what Hasbro has done with its structural design strategy is brilliant. Rather than hone in on a single structural shape, the entire line intentionally leverages different music-themed configurations. The 2-inch doll packaging is shaped like a stylized triangular-shaped guitar, reminiscent of the Gibson ““Flying V”.” The property logo resides at the top of the package within the black head and neck of the guitar, while the body of the guitar frames the product in blister. Rather than trying to force every product in the line to work within a guitar-shaped structure, Hasbro chose to switch things up from package to package while keeping with the music theme. The Tiny Dancers Greatest Hits package, which features 6 mini figures and accessories, is shaped like a record album. The bottom half is paperboard with die-cut star shapes; the top half is a semi-circular blister, complete with concentric grooves. Both halves come together to complete the record shape, with the Troll’’s World Tour logo centered as the record label. Yet my favorite package in Hasbro’’s Troll’’s World Tour product line is the Tiny Dancers Friend Pack, which features 2 Tiny Dancers figures, 2 bracelets and 10 charms in a structure shaped like an 80s-styled boom box, complete with cassette tape, buttons, speakers and a carry handle!

What I love about this structural design strategy is that it tells the Troll’’s World Tour brand story through a series of dedicated, music-oriented structural shapes. Instead of simply making a visual connection from package to package based on predictable similarities, each structure provides an element of unexpected surprise. Typically, storytelling in package design is done through a combination of design architecture, character art and verbal communication. Leveraging structure in this manner keeps consumers engaged with the brand in a fun way. And, in doing so, they tune out every other choice vying for their attention.

Structure design that expounds on a themed experience

Moose Toys introduced its Goo Goo Galaxy product line to the marketplace through a massive teaser campaign on YouTube and Instagram. The campaign closed with an event offering an early purchase opportunity at FAO Schwarz in New York City, and product sold out in only two hours! Goo Goo Galaxy is an assortment of baby aliens called Goo Drops, which have squishy bodies filled with glittery slime. The line combines collectibility with the tactile experience of squishiness and slime play. And Moose Toys did an out-of-this-world job with its package design.

Each Goo Drops’’ package is a hexagon-shaped alien space craft with its upper half made of blister material and its base made of paperboard. A paperboard insert is illustrated to look like the interior of the space craft, complete with die-cut windows and pilot seat. And each interior is uniquely colored to differentiate each Goo Drops character within the assortment. Not only is the structure a distinctive shape that commands the attention of consumers, it engages them through storytelling fantasy that perfectly aligns with the Goo Goo Galaxy brand attributes.

The Goo Goo Galaxy Slurp ‘’n’’ Slime Goo Drop playset features a larger alien with a hollow, squishy body and all the accessories needed to create your own glittery slime filling. Its package doesn’t follow the same hexagonal structural design as the Goo Drops packaging. Instead, it is an elaborately designed window box that looks like an alien space craft dripping with slime. The acetate window gives the consumer a view into its cockpit and all of the playset contents. Smaller die-cut windows along the bottom of the front panel show the slime mix and a variety of colorful, stylized glitter. Although the structure design isn’t visually consistent with the hexagonal-shaped Goo Drops packaging, it continues with the alien space craft theme. The Goo Goo Galaxy logo, along with the purple and pink brand color palette, tie the entire line together. Yet, through its unique structure, this package design broadens the scope of the brand story by portraying a larger alien space craft with its own distinctive details.

Establishing consumer recognition through structure design strategy

A themed approach to structure design has the ability to take on-pack brand storytelling to the next level. Surprise, unpredictability and cleverness keep consumers entertained during the shopping experience, which encourages a deeper interaction with the brand. Although a single structural shape isn’t being employed, brand recognition and retention is established through the experience the brand’’s packaging delivers at retail. Evoking an entertaining experience is arguably a more powerful and everlasting manner in which to inspire consumers to remember a brand, rather than simply being visually consistent with its package design.


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