14-12-2011

The case of the embarrassing mystery packaging

Author: Shireen Shurmer

A long wait in a foreign airport recently prompted me to visit the sweet shop for a sugar hit and a packet of chewing gum.  Expecting to find the familiar green and blue packs of spearmint et al, I was somewhat confounded.  In the usual spot beside the cash register was an array of discreetly branded matt black packages, featuring a classy embossed effect and the simple words ‘cobalt’ and ‘turbulence’ reversed out of the black in bright primary colours. So discreet, that I assumed these must be – how shall I say this – prophylactics.  Apparently recognising my confusion, the sales assistant reassured me that the product was indeed chewing gum, and clarified the choice of refreshing mint or water melon flavours.

Author: Shireen Shurmer

A long wait in a foreign airport recently prompted me to visit the sweet shop for a sugar hit and a packet of chewing gum.  Expecting to find the familiar green and blue packs of spearmint et al, I was somewhat confounded.  In the usual spot beside the cash register was an array of discreetly branded matt black packages, featuring a classy embossed effect and the simple words ‘cobalt’ and ‘turbulence’ reversed out of the black in bright primary colours. So discreet, that I assumed these must be – how shall I say this – prophylactics.  Apparently recognising my confusion, the sales assistant reassured me that the product was indeed chewing gum, and clarified the choice of refreshing mint or water melon flavours.

Now perhaps I was disadvantaged as a visitor to the country, in that I have missed the extensive integrated marketing effort that no doubt supported the roll-out of this revolutionary rebrand.  But surely, when creating a packaging redesign for an impulse tillpoint purchase such as this, the designer must make the product instantly recognisable for what it is, and give the buyer a head start by enabling them to see what they are buying without microscopic inspection of the packaging and product description.  At the very least, they should consider the scope for the product to be misrecognised as something else entirely!

Packaging plays such a fundamental role at the point of purchase, carrying heavy responsibility for immediate product and brand recognition.  Packaging is the vehicle for communication with today’s time-pressured consumer, and it must speak to them directly, giving them clear visual cues supported by intuitive brand names and unambiguous product descriptions. If it fails on these counts, then this expensive designer rebrand – presumably motivated by creating better cut-through in a crowded product category – has surely missed the point? 

Meanwhile, I’m hoping to avoid some uncomfortable interrogations at home as to why I seem to have an open packet of water melon flavoured condoms in my handbag…