As we continue to refine our philosophies and approach to the design of packaging programs for licensed brands, we take into consideration the questions asked by licensed brand owners and licensee partners alike. Their questions reveal the challenges they’re facing as their needs and the retail environment evolve. The conversations we have with our toy and entertainment industry clients are invaluable. The insights they uncover help us improve our process as we problem-solve their challenges. And, we want to bring our perspective on how best to address these challenges to our readership in the context of our newsletter and our blog.
With this in mind, here are our responses to the five questions we’re asked most frequently by our clients about licensed brand package design.
Can a licensed brand’s packaging program be designed to celebrate a milestone anniversary without having to change the look completely once the anniversary year is over?
With so many brands celebrating milestone anniversaries of late, this question is raised quite often. Yes, a single, evergreen package design can be established for a licensed brand’s packaging program, while temporarily celebrating the milestone anniversary, without abandoning or compromising the look.
The key to doing this effectively is to first establish the evergreen package design system, then treat the placement of the brand’s anniversary-related design assets – the anniversary logo and any other graphic elements or messaging related to the milestone – as an overlay to the design rather than as integral aspects of the design. For example, the anniversary logo may appear in a snipe or in a comfortable, clear area where it won’t compete with any other communication. Perhaps a celebratory pattern may fill an otherwise flat area within the package design system. Or a celebratory color, such as silver or gold, might replace a color in the brand’s palette for select communication throughout the design. Treating the anniversary-related design assets in this way will allow them to be removed from the packaging, once the anniversary year has passed, without leaving visual holes in its design.
Which packaging formats are the most important to address when developing a licensed brand’s packaging program?
Many licensed brands’ packaging program standardization guidelines include templates for the four standard packaging formats: a blister card, a closed box, a window box and a hang tag. These typically suffice as examples to cover the spectrum of potential packaging configurations of most licensee partners. However, the packaging formats that should be addressed in a particular licensed brand’s packaging program should be determined by the product categories being pursued. For some brands, there may not be a need for a blister card example because its licensing program is geared more towards larger hard goods that require boxes. Other brands might be purely apparel-based, and require only a hang tag. Character-based brands that might inspire licensees to create plush products would require examples of tray or platform-style boxes.
Even within the four standard packaging formats, the category or nature of the licensed brand may dictate a specific interpretation of these structural configurations. For example, if a brand is more gift-oriented, the proportions of the closed and window box formats its packaging program addresses would be considerably different than those same packaging format examples for brands that fall within toy and other kid-focused categories. For brands like Star Wars, its packaging program standardization guidelines might include examples of closed and window boxes in extreme horizontal proportions to accommodate toy or adult collectible lightsaber products.
Why are our licensee partners constantly missing the mark when following our brand’s packaging program’s standardization guidelines?
We hear this question most often from licensed brand owners who have engaged us to refresh their brand’s packaging program. And, the answer is always quite evident after reading through their current standardization guidelines. Having evolved our approach to the development of standardization guidelines over the past three decades, we know what works, what doesn’t and why. Not all licensee partners have the savvy to follow a design template and recreate the packaging program’s visual aesthetic in their product’s packaging production file. Therefore, the written guidelines are critically important. When licensees are missing the mark too often, this usually points to poorly-written or an insufficient instructional guidelines.
What we’ve found to work best is to first introduce licensees to the program’s package design assets. This should be done in a linear manner, in the specific order in which they’re used to build the design of the primary display panel and subsequent panels, along with clearly written instructional guidelines. Once they’re familiar with the package design assets, the templates for each format should be introduced, along with call-outs to support assembly.
This approach to standardization is almost fool-proof. Licensees typically get the design right with their initial submission or require only minimal course correction.
When is it ok to allow licensee partners to deviate from the look established for my licensed brand’s packaging program?
The challenge with answering this question is the fact that we don’t encourage licensees to deviate from the look established for a licensed brand’s packaging because visual consistency is what resonates with consumers and allows them to quickly identify a particular licensed brand’s products from one category to the next. With that said, there are two very specific scenarios where a slight deviation or “creative interpretation” would benefit both the licensed brand and the licensee partner.
The first scenario would be when a licensee’s product line has a unique marketing challenge that can be overcome by a slight tweak to the packaging program’s overarching design. For example, a licensee might be a beverage brand with the need to distinguish between flavor varieties. If the licensed brand’s packaging program standardization guidelines don’t provide instructions for this kind of product segmentation, then the licensee should create a solution that aligns well with the design system – perhaps assigning colors or other visual flavor cues for each variety. You can learn more about this scenario here.
The second would be in a co-branded scenario where the licensee has an established look for its brand’s packaging, which has been designed to accommodate a variety of licensed brands. In this scenario, consumer shopping behavior is paramount. If the consumer is shopping for the licensee’s brand first, then finding their favorite licensed brand among the licensee’s product offering, then the licensed brand’s package design assets should be incorporated into the licensee’s established package design system in a way that would make sense to consumers. Enforcing the licensed brand’s standardization guidelines too strictly in this scenario would confuse consumers and negatively impact sales. Read about a good example of this co-branded scenario here.
What’s the best way to establish standardization guidelines for a packaging program that’s part of a licensed brand’s consumer product style guide?
Including a packaging section within a licensed brand’s consumer product style guide is the most rudimentary approach to presenting a packaging program to licensee partners. We recommend this approach only when a brand is new to licensing, or when a licensing program won’t be in the marketplace for a long period of time (i.e. movie-related, anniversary or promotional programs). However, some of our clients leverage this approach because it is the most economical alternative to a stand-alone packaging program style guide.
The packaging section within a consumer product style guide is typically only a handful of pages, with each highlighting a single packaging format. Each page would feature a single format’s template with call-outs to provide basic instructional guidelines, along with a line or two of text at the bottom to let licensee partners know where to locate the package design assets and the template. Since there are no written instruction for implementation, this approach relies almost solely on the template visual for standardization, and leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation.
The key to success in this scenario is to ensure that the individual package design asset files contain explicit instructions for their usage. The template files should also provide as much direction as possible, in the form of notations and call-outs, to give licensees the best chance of executing the design properly.
Sharing knowledge on licensed product packaging program development best practices
Our goal at Design Force, Inc. is to continuously evolve and refine our approach to the development of packaging programs for licensed brands while helping our soon-to-be clients with our expertise in this discipline. We’re happy to be sharing the above insights and welcome thoughts, feedback and any questions on this topic from our readership.