Everything you’ve always wanted to know about packaging

Key facts on the importance of packaging:

Packaging is everything

When I was in DANONE marketing, I presented with Antoine Passerat a Master Class (we called it “Danoforum”) to the Marketing team. To convey the importance of packaging we started in a very impressive way: Antoine started on stage alone and said “darn, today there is a sea with strong waves!”… silence in the public a little misplaced.

I entered at that time with yellow navigation equipment, wet hair and shouted “darn, today there is a sea with strong waves!”

Laughter and applause: we had shown that packaging is what makes the message credible.


In Danone, we used to say that a yogurt in ERCA container (that’s what we call the typical plastic pot that we find in the supermarket) and the same yogurt in a glass container tie in a blind test (logically) but the glass gains 80/20 in test Identified: this shows that packaging has a decisive impact on consumers’ perception of quality.

In my first years in the Danone Group I also worked in the beer division, the same thing happened: Kronenbourg, the life-long beer with its white and red label usually surpasses all the other beers in the market in blind test, being its flavor the one that you like the most, the most popular … and that’s why it is probably still the leading beer in France.  However, in an identified test, Kronenbourg wins 1664 or Heineken. Both enjoy an image and a prestige that has built the brand and reaffirms its packaging.

Times changes

economy and objectives chart

Active woman

Statistically, women continue to manage the vast majority of purchases. But our society evolves and women are more and more active which means a reduction in the time dedicated to the purchase.

The business is type is changing

  • Traditional trade: usually has a trusted seller we know (the fruit seller, the butcher …) who acts as a prescriber. He can sell products without label: since he has to guarantee quality, traceability…
  • The modern distribution: most purchases are now made in hypermarket / supermarket, and this implies the obligation to develop a SELF EXPLANATORY PACKAGING: being alone in the shelf, the product must communicate what it is used for(I am a bleach), who I am(I’m Neutrex), what is your competitive advantagevs other alternatives (I’m Neutrex Suave: I white wash your clothes while taking care of textile fibers) and besides being so, I look like it. The packaging must also give a series of legal informations (composition, use mode …) and give a series of guarantees: a packaging which says BLEACH and looks like a bottle of milk would cause doubts for the consumer. Similarly, a BLEACH that does not seem effective is discarded if the bleach next to it does seem effective.
  • The irruption of online sales: when entering the online market, you need to create a packaging that is recognizable in “thumbnail size”, although the real challenge is to differentiate yourself from imitations / competitors and to make obvious the competitive edge. In general, to “oversimplify” would be a way to summarize the goal in this new era.

The packaging: an important communication vector

  • We have multiple communication elements within a pack that should permit communicating what is most relevant to the consumer: the shape or volume of the pack, the materials that comprise it, the name of the brand / variety, the design of that brand / variety, product window or product photo / illustration, benefit icons / how to use, … everything helps to communicate and you have to know how to combine them.
  • The pack can lift or sink a product: we have many examples where double-digit growth has been achieved with “only” a change of Packaging and a ceteris paribus scenario.

    Two examples of successes created by Little Buddha Brand Agency:

    • Packaging change for Nocilla: Nocilla, Spanish leader in spread chocolate has seen a growth of more than 30% after the change of packaging (container volumetric and graphic design) and without TV or other factors helping this change. The redesign modernized its image and above all moved it from a territory of caprice / indulgence to nutrition.

    • Packaging change for Sant Aniol water: Positioning this Catalan brand as volcanic origin water (its previous positioning was not defined correctly) and improving the volumetric of its PET bottle and its graphic design with a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) has supposed an effect on sales of more than 30% according to the evaluation of its General Director.

  • Strength of the packaging vs. other communication channels.
    • The packaging is the only communication channel at the time of purchase in modern channel (hyper / super): in the moment of truth, the packaging can make a consumer choose one product and not another. It is estimated that 82% of purchase decisions are made in front of the shelf (Source: In-Store Media)
    • The packaging is present at the time of consumption / use of your product. The example of cereal boxes that are on the table at the time of consumption is a classic, but when you enjoy a good wine, when you use your shampoo or moisturizer, the design of your product reaffirms your decision, participates in your consumer experience, and tells you more about your product (story telling in wine bottles, stories in cereal or biscuit packs …)
    • The packaging in many cases is part of the consumer’s daily environment. The water that is on our table, the brands that are in our fridge produce a daily impact. At the end there is a tendency of “kitchen art”: using olive oil bottles, pepper mills and ingredients with especially attractive packaging to decorate the home and give it an attractive style.
    • The packaging as a free GRP. I remember the calculation we made in Danone about the impacts that consumers received from Danone’s natural yogurt: 475 million impact per pack (calculating the number of yogurts sold) vs. the 118 million achieved by TV (calculating the theoretical impacts)… So it seems that the packaging allows more GRP (Growth Rating Point, unit of measurement of advertising pressure) and it’s also a “free” GRP: the product legally needs a printed label to be sold, there is no extra cost in making a good product design vs. the average investment that must be dedicated to impact our target.

Packaging criterias:

Here we list the different functions that a pack must fulfill for large consumption (also applicable to sectors such as cosmetics, pharmaceutical or industrial products … with some nuances).

pack functions chart


The packaging transmits the same positioning as communication. So you must rigorously follow the same guidelines as communication. In Danone we used a simple and powerful tool: the diamond.

The three upper points of the diamond are applied to the packaging and the pack must meet these requirements: the Brand, the Icon and the Code, in line with the positioning of the product.

the diamond in packaging

The Brand

In order to be efficient, the product’s brand in FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) should transmit the benefit or the Reason Why.

  • Brands that transmit the BENEFIT: CRUNCH, Head & Shoulder, Vitamin Water, UMAI CHA.
  • Brands that transmit the REASON TO BELIEVE (the reason why I think this product works): Nestle LC1 (name of the bacteria).In order to be efficient, the product’s brand in FMCG should transmit the benefit or the Reason Why. This strategy can be efficient but also makes brands play with the same weapons as the private label.

The Icon

It is better to have a clear icon to help identify the product. I remember when DANONE Spain launched their Greek yogurt (the current OIKOS).

France had successfully launched a mix with a bowl-shaped, clay-colored package with naked athletes running, simulating the dishes of ancient Greece. A beautiful and sophisticated pack, but not “self explanatory”: consumers can interpret this aesthetic as Roman, Etruscan … it is not that obvious.

In Spain we launched a typical yogurt package, of  “Greek blue” color with the Parthenon as an icon. The success was extraordinary.

The magic of an icon is that it allows any consumer to identify the product as Greek even if he has or has not been to Athens.

The Code

  • Color: Some brands have adopted an arbitrary but unique color code (Milka: lilac) or with a meaning (Scottish: Shortbread)… An arbitrary color is more difficult to install in the consumer’s mind, but also more unique and protectable.
  • Form: the Coca Cola, Orangina or Actimel bottle, the Toblerone box, Henkel’s Star Bleach the strange bottle are some forms assimilated by consumers / by the public in general and are a fundamental asset of these brands. Lactovit body milk has chosen a form that recalls fresh milk for human consumption to signify its naturalness and quality.In short, to be able to appropriate a form, finding a “meaningful” form is a way to create powerful and emotional anchoring points with consumers.
  • Material: Taking universal examples, we could list a series of materials and surely we would all agree to attach these attributes to these materials:
    • Crystal: premium / organic
    • Mud: traditional / handmade
    • Kraft paper: handmade / organic
    • Aluminum bottle: technological / sophisticated

Thus it is important to understand that the material is an element that communicates silently.

No doubt there are technical / industrial / cost / environmental limitations that can make us choose one option or another.

No doubt the design can then soften or influence the perception of the volumetric packaging but choosing the packaging material has an impact on the consumer’s perception and their experience with the product. Anyone who has opened an iPhone, iPad or iWatch case will understand the concept of experience very well: Apple puts in a lot of effort to work on the packaging experience and calculates the optimal time to reach the product. The experience is enriched by a well-designed material and staging.

The Result: communicate the positioning

A good work on these anterior elements will transmit the positioning intuitively for the consumer.

The creative spark

Complying with the above is an exercise of Cartesian discipline very useful in large consumption and in many cases of the market. To have a memorable pack and “eye catching” the best thing to do is to add a creative spark: a twist that allows the design, in addition to transmitting what it has to do, be shocking, appropriable, and ideally, generate “emotional bounding” with the consumer.We can give examples of creative and functional spark packs:

  • Flakes Nocilla

    flakes nocilla little buddha brand design agency
    The idea was to convey that these cookies, in the form of ravioli, contained Nocilla creamy chocolate spread (and not dry as in some other brands) and we decided to use the hooligan character who was the hero of the TV campaigns in order to create a shocking packaging but which still followed communicating what we meant to say: irresistible cookies filled with Nocilla creamy chocolate spread.

  • Umai Cha

    The challenge was to create an attractive packaging for Western consumers, transmitting the Japanese origin of the pack without being exclusive / polarizing: the pack had to be attractive and educational. And how easy it would have been to fall into a pack saturated with information that contradicts the idea of ​​Japanese Zen we have in Europe.
    But we must avoid the DYSFUNCTIONAL CREATIVITY: some creatives (and sometimes some clients) get carried away by creative ideas that do not communicate anything that is desired or communicate opposite things / “misleading” surely we can find examples in packaging and in advertising. It’s a classic: false good ideas.
    Creativity is good, if it communicates something that we want to transmit, not if it impacts a lot to communicate something we do not want to say.

Packaging evaluation:

Various market tests exist, we will comment some of the most efficient:

  • Qualitative test / Group focus

    The qualitative methods are designed to EXPLORE what a Naming / Packaging / Communication proposal communicates and identify the brakes that it can generate, detect the insights and barriers of consumers in this category and also for this proposal.

  • Shelf test

    It measures the consumer’s behavior on the shelf through the “real” sales (on a physical shelf with the product to test and its competitive environment).


    This method tests the image attributes of a proposal with a monadic approach (a proposal does not compare with another proposal of that same product). Testing in monadic avoids forcing the differences and creates a more “realistic” result (in real life we ​​do not find ourselves in the situation of evaluating if this package of coffee is more attractive than another alternative design of the same brand).

    The important thing is to test according to relevant attributes, that is, not ask if you like the typography but “it is a product for the whole family / it would be consumed daily / it is a healthy product …” which are items that are then compared between the different design proposals.

  • Identified hall test

    In this type of test the consumer evaluates the product (it tests and evaluates its organolepsy) and evaluates the packaging associated with the product that is being tested. It allows us to see if we are transmitting the reality of the product with the proposed packaging.

  • Eye tracking

    This methodology allows to measure the consumer’s eye movements and to check if the consumer sees and identifies our brand on a shelf; you can also measure in a pack, the information that the eye collects to ensure that key information is collected.

  • In vivo

    This method simulates selling acts in a supermarket, it is a powerful and complete tool to evaluate with great profundity level a packaging proposal.

How to manage all of this?

The process is complex, here are some important notes:

  • Know how to manage the pressure

    From the brief to the approved packaging there are many actors involved (Director Marketing, General Manager, …) and it is important to have a solid Brand Manager who knows how to listen, but also to defend his strategy and his convictions. One of the biggest dangers is to end up with a “Dromedary” Packaging: each person gives their opinion and asks for a change, each one is bossier than the Brand Manager and it’s hard to refuse, and that’s how you begin with a horse Thoroughbred and you end up with a dromedary.

    The excellent Juanjo Perez Cuesta always said “the numbers are the strength of the Brand Manager”: a CEO can convince with a strong test result, with a strategy argument. The goal is not that the result pleases or not to those who manage the project: the objective is to have the best proposal to transmit the POSITIONING, THE REASON WHY and the END BENEFIT to the consumer.

  • A good results starts with a good brief

    An agency like Little Buddha Brand Design can accompany the marketing team in order to have a good brief, because it is important that the brief is clear and agreed before starting the project: all the team that will give its opinion on the packaging proposals should have approved the brief beforehand to ensure that all of them share the same idea on the objective.

  • Do not wait to start a packaging project

    A packaging development process of an important brand and also of a new brand usually lasts 6 months, it is important to start the process as soon as the strategy is closed.

    Some companies work on communication first and at the end of the process give 5 days to a Branding agency to develop the packaging that will be their product. It is very risky not to involve your branding agency from the strategy phase.

  • Close stages

    It is advisable to develop the project progressing without turning back: if a test discards a graphic path (for example, we explore an organic style design) or a strategic bet (for example, we target vegetarians), conclusions must be drawn and adjust the brief with these key learnings and pull ahead with an enriched brief. We should not go “back and forth” exploring the same things over and over again.

  • Have a realistic plan

    You have to take into account from the first moment if you are going to test or not, if you need to align positions with the international headquarters so that the whole team can manage the timing efficiently.

  • Make printing tests, control printing

    General Bismark said that “the best strategy can die in tactics” (one of the key points of our Manifesto in Little Buddha Brand Design). For this reason, it is essential to inform the agency about the technical limitations of printing (if the print provider is defined) and to make printing tests to close the colors in a safe way.

    Based on our experience, a common mistake for marketing teams is to think about colors as they are seen from a computer screen or from a projector (uncalibrated RGB colors) or even from the print made with your office printer (unrealistic colors on a paper type that does not correspond to the final material). It is important to make printing tests: the cost is minimal and can avoid many problems and high subsequent costs.


Packaging is a critical piece of a brand’s strategy, probably the most important: many brands are marketed without advertising (Viagra, Arizona Tea, Kiehl’s, GoPro), few without Packaging. Here is a “cheat sheet” to develop a packaging project.

pack cheat sheet brand icon code chart requisites compulsory soon necessary chart

About the author: Bertrand Massanes | Managing Partner at Little Buddha
• Ex Managing Director at MPG art (Media Planning - HAVAS Media)

• Ex Marketing manager at Danone & Reckitt Benckiser Spain

• Ex Export Manager at Danone Paris & London
December 4th, 2019 | Packaging Design
Little Buddha Brand Design Agency

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