Back in 2019, Hasbro led the charge towards eliminating plastic from their toy packaging, with the goal of becoming completely plastic-free by 2022. And, they’re well on their way to meeting their goal. With other toy manufacturers following suit in the effort to reduce the impact of packaging on the environment, we’re beginning to see dramatic change within the toy aisles at mass retail. This is a wonderful and welcomed change in how the toy industry is introducing new products to the marketplace. And, it has been great for us as a package design consultancy to play a critical role in this effort as we work with our industry leading toy clients to come up with innovative, plastic-free structural package design strategies for their brands.
An industry-wide shift in structural design strategy
As I had predicted in our December 2019 issue of BOLT!, we’re beginning to see a clear shift in the types of package structures being employed by toy manufacturers. Blister cards and acetate window boxes are being replaced by open boxes and platform boxes. New hybrid package structures that are part closed box and part open box are being leveraged to contain smaller, loose parts that would typically be found within a blister, while still exposing the main product to consumers. Additionally, without plastic packaging components to hold product in place on any open-style package structure, manufacturers are relying on paper rattan ties as well as strategically-integrated die-cuts to anchor product to packaging in the desired position.
With blind box packaging continuing to maintain traction within many toy categories, closed box structures are more prevalent than ever. For many toy products, especially those that are packaged unassembled, a closed box is the only practical structural configuration.
Creating visual impact through storytelling
So, how do we continue to capture the attention of consumers with such limitations? With all of these changes in approach to structural package design strategy, toy packaging is sure to become simpler and less dramatic, right? Not necessarily.
As package designers, the onus is on us to generate excitement among consumers at retail and influence their purchase decisions… no matter what. While the parameters change, this objective still remains the same. We first need to ask ourselves what we’re losing by not being able to integrate a uniquely-shaped blister that adds dimension in multiple levels of visual interest to a package structure, or not being able to suspend product and its accessories so that they’re prominently displayed through an acetate window. What we’re losing is visual impact. So, how to we gain it back?
Another prediction I made in our 2019 issue of BOLT! is that imagery would play a much heavier role on packaging. If we’re not able to see the product because it’s concealed within a closed box, this means we’ve gained a ton of visual real estate within which to work our magic. This gives us the room to leverage a beautifully-conceived and executed illustration or visually-enhanced product photo to bring the product to life and create a sense of fantasy while conveying the play pattern. Think about it: this type of visual storytelling is arguably more effective in capturing consumers’ attention than a static product featured within a blister or behind an acetate window.
Using equitable visual brand assets as package design architecture
Another way to create visual impact in package design is to leverage the most equitable visual assets associated with the brand as package design architecture. By my definition, package design architecture is a distinctively dominant aspect of package design that embodies something emotive and unique to the brand. In the same manner that structural package design can create visual impact, package design architecture can elicit a strong emotional response from consumers – especially those who are fans of the brand. Allowing package design architecture to be defined by a die-cut edge on an open box will draw even further attention to it, making it an integral part of the brand’s structural design strategy.
Package design visuals will need to work harder
In the new world of plastic-free toy packaging, we will need to rely more heavily on package design visuals to establish an emotional connection with consumers and generate excitement for the brand. We can still have fun with package structure design, even with the limitations that come from being plastic-free. But, let’s up the ante by putting more effort into brand storytelling and package design architecture to motivate consumers’ decision to interact with our brands at retail, and ultimately make the decision to buy.