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Packaged Goods: The Billion Dollar Brands story

Published on Mar 5 2010 5:16 PM in Packaging And Design

Packaged Goods: The Billion Dollar Brands story

Stephen Wynne-Jones examines some of the do's and don'ts when it comes to brand packaging, and examines how some of the Billion Dollar Brand owners are reducing packaging in a bid to shave costs, and earn environmental brownie points. A Coke bottle. A tin of Pringles. A Heinz ketchup bottle. A can of Campbell's soup. Sometimes, packaging just works. The millions invested in packaging by the Billion Dollar Brand owners every year is a testament to the need to reinforce brand values in a highly competitive environment. What brand owners stick on the label of their product is not just an information slip - it's a method of strengthening core ideals, communicating the brand equity to the customer. Whether it's the smiling face of Uncle Ben on a packet of rice, or the perennially crowing cockerel on the Corn Flakes box, good packaging conveys authenticity, and is a familiar and constant reminder of the quality of the product within. If that all sounds a bit pretentious, consider this - the famous Coca-Cola contour bottle, often referred to as the 'hobble skirt' bottle, was originally designed by the Root Glass Company, in 1915, according to a  brief which required "a Coca-Cola bottle which a person will recognise as a Coca-Cola bottle even if he feels it in the dark. The Coca-Cola bottle should be so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was." Heinz ketchup's 'Imperial' bottle is another product for which the very shape of the bottle conveys provenance; as iconic as the label bearing the legend '57 varieties'. But, of course, Coke are the masters of packaging identification. The scripted font on the bottle, the red and white imagery, Santa Claus... it's not so much packaging any more, but a mission statement. When Coca-Cola launched Coke Zero in 2005, bearing a new black and red colour scheme as opposed to the familiar red and white, much of the promotional material reflected this new identity, black and red featuring heavily. The failure of New Coke in the 1980s was not only that the product tasted inferior, but that Coca-Cola were trying to instill a new set of ideals onto a template that had little wrong with it. As the old adage goes, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Coke weren't going to make the same mistake twice, creating a brand new identity for the Coke Zero offshoot, which subtly retained the provenance of the parent brand in its packaging. However, Coke's main rival, PepsiCo, is still reeling from one of the most ill-judged packaging revamps of recent years. On January 8th, 2009, PepsiCo's Tropicana brand unveiled a radical new look for its Tropicana Pure Premium product, the biggest selling juice in the States, and the brand that had catapulted Tropicana to 24th place on the list of Billion Dollar Brands (it's closest rival, Coke's Minute Maid, is 25th). Gone was the 'straw' image from the front of the carton, replaced by an oversized orange segment and a new slogan, 'Squeeze, It's a Natural'. The boffins behind the redesign, New York's Arnell Group, explained that "the whole idea of 'squeeze,' was is to play up "the functional benefit" of orange juice "and the emotional connection people have with Tropicana [...] There was this notion of owning a simple word that would communicate the love, the care, in this 'Obama moment' we're all going through." The market results were little short of catastrophic. Tropicana Pure Premium sales fell by 20 per cent in the two months that followed, equating to roughly $30 million in lost revenue. Minute Maid, along with other rival juice products, saw it's sales rise by double digits. Something had gone seriously wrong. Tropicana, stunned at the negative reception the new packaging had received, hastily announced on February 23rd that it would return to the 'old' packaging. Neil Campbell, president of North America, barely six weeks after extolling the virtues of the new design to the New York Times, told the same newspaper, "We underestimated the deep emotional bond" consumers had with the original packaging. "Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded. [...] The straw and orange have been there for a long time, but people have not necessarily had a huge connection to them.  What we didn't get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers have. That wasn't something that came out in the research." Pepsi had learned a very valuable lesson. In the wake of the Tropicana affair, it's quite easy to point the finger and say that Pepsi had missed the bar when it came to packaging redesign, and, ergo, that products such as Tropicana, or Coke, or Heinz for that matter, shouldn't mess with the classics. That's true to a point, but that's not to say that 'revolutionary' packaging doesn't necessarily work. The key problem with Tropicana's redesign was that it went too far - removing the straw and orange image was one thing, but changing the product logo, arrangement of items on the packaging, the colour was a step too many. Simply put, customers didn't recognise the product on the shelves. There's a belief among retail circles that every new packaging design should adhere to the 'five second rule'; simply that customers in a busy retail environment will glance at a typical product for five seconds or less, and determine whether it's right for them. When faced with the new Tropicana packaging for five seconds, the majority of consumers either felt it was a new product entirely, or that it wasn't as good as the brand they knew and loved, despite the exact same contents being in the carton. But Kraft, and before them, Heinz, are both examples of companies that have undertaken a massive redesign which only served to increase sales. In 2002, Heinz shook the ketchup world when it announced its ketchup would now also be available in an upside-down bottle. At the time of its launch, a Heinz exectuive put it very simply. "The top consumer complaints about ketchup are how hard it is to get the ketchup out of the bottom of the bottle and dried ketchup mess around the cap." The new packaging would eliminated this problem, a marriage of convenience and user-friendliness. The Heinz 'Top Down' bottle revolutionised the sauce industry, while the bottle itself won packaging awards in the US, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and the UK. Kraft took a similar leap in 2008, with the launch of its new range of salad dressing bottles. The design of the 50 or so varieties in its salad dressing portfolio hadn't changed much since they were first introduced, a fact that was being echoed in sliding sales; in its key US market, Kraft had dropped from a 32.5 per cent share of the market in 2002 to a 27.8 per cent share in 2007. Spurred by a call from CEO Irene Rosenfeld to "reframe" many of Kraft's key brands, a new easy-to-grip PET bottle was launched, with a flip-top cap to enable easier pouring. The new bottle also used 19 per cent less plastic than its previous incarnation, increasing shipping efficiency by 20 per cent and reducing the amount of PET used by the equivalent of 70 million plastic water bottles per annum. Five new dressings were also added to the range to usher in the new design. The move scooped Kraft a DuPont Award for Packaging Innovation in 2008. But a newly shaped salad dressing bottle is only a small part of the packaging overhaul Kraft has undertaken in recent years. Five years ago, the company established what it dubbed the Packaging Eco-Calculator, described as "a tool that helps packaging developers create efficient and optimized packaging." And the results have been phenomenal; in January, the company announced that the development of more innovative design has seen it cut packaging weight used by 116 million kilograms since 2005 (the equivalent of 150 fully-loaded jumbo jets), two years ahead of schedule. As well as salad dressing, the removal of packaging layers from Milka chocolate bars in Europe (60 per cent less packaging), refill bags for Kenco coffee jars (97 per cent less packaging), and the use of composite paperboard as opposed to steel for its North American coffee brands (weighing 30 per cent less and using 50 per cent recycled content) are some of the measures the company has introduced.  As Kraft's Jean Spence, Executive Vice President, Research, Development & Quality, put it recently, "we're finding smarter source materials, reducing our footprint and thinking differently about packaging end of life. We're sharing ideas, challenging and motivating one another, so this is truly a collaborative team effort." Kraft aren't alone, of course, in embracing the concept of environmental awareness as part of a packaging redesign. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola announced the latest shift in its packaging paradigm, with the introduction of the PlantBottle, a bottle that is 30 per cent constructed from sugar cane and molasses, making it, Coke claim, "a natural step toward the bottle of the future." The bottle, launched at last month's Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is the first of its kind to be mass-produced, and could see other major beverage companies turn to eco-friendly packaging. Or, as one commentator put it, should it fail, it will likely seal the fate for the plant-based material's use for some time. Others have adopted the mantra that 'small is beautiful' (and therefore lighter to transport). In 2007, Unilever, which manufactures the Persil and Surf laundry detergent brands, teamed up with consultancy service Fifth Dimension to develop Persil 'Small and Mighty', a highly concentrated detergent that used 40 per cent less packaging that other dilutable detergents. According to the blurb from the Unilever website, "Small & Mighty disrupted the usual monotony of laundry with a completely new product, distinctive, modern and eye-catching packaging leveraging on the consumer insight that 'small is better'."

P&G, too, are wearing their environmental heart on their sleeves, unveiling a whole range of packaging reduction measures, which, while relatively minor in some cases, add up to savings of thousands of tonnes worth of plastic per annum. Olay anti-ageing moisturisers have been fitted with new pumps, Gilette Fusion blades are now packaged in smaller plastic envelopes, while Pampers has reduced its packaging weight by two thirds over the course of two decades. P&G also has its answer to Persil's Small and Mighty, Ariel Excel Gel, which is 57 per cent more efficient to transport, and uses 17 per cent less packaging than standard brands. P&G also launched a website,, to promote the new product's capabilities at low washing temperatures. It all fits in with P&G's new mantra, 'Changes that Matter', which has reduced waste disposal by 50 per cent since 2002, not to mention water usage by 51 per cent, CO2 emissions by 52 per cent and energy usage by 46 per cent [as of March 2009].  Of course, while a reduction in packaging is a sensible measure in this new era of environmental sustainability, it's important to note that in the examples just mentioned, the packaging has remained true to the key brand values. In fact, in developing an environmental strategy, Unilever and P&G have adopted a new set of brand values (to add to those already established), which must also be conveyed on the packaging. When Ariel uses the slogan 'Outstanding Cleaning from as low as 15C' on its packaging, it creates a brand new USP for itself, a worthy addition for any brand as it seeks to fend off not only its more established rivals, but the rise of private label as well. The packaging, ultimately, IS the product, and most major brand owners are actutely aware of how to find a balance between 'nice to know' and 'need to know' information in how a product is presented, taking into account the importance of identifiable aspects such as logo, colour and the 'emotion' attached to the brand. Occasionally, new packaging innovations lead many brand owners to reconsider the size, shape or how consumers use a product - the new folding, reusable box from Unilever's Magnum brand ice cream is one example, Birds Eye's innovative 'cook in the bag' packaging is another. But as long as the key elements are conveyed, brand identification is secure. When unveiling its new packaging a year ago, Tropicana may have thought, as many have over the years, that it was the product inside, rather than the 'box' itself that was the key sales driver. Theirs should be a lesson for other brand owners - your product may be a category leader, the best under the sun; but if, post-redesign, the average consumer doesn't recognise it (or associate it with the brand values you've sculpted over the years), what's the point?

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