Effective packaging is a crucial part of the marketing mix for
CPG brands, and it is only becoming more of one. Your package is
one of the most fundamental aspects of your brand, second only to
the product and product experience itself. So, if package design is
so important, then it must be important to leverage the best design
for your brand. But where do you start? As with all things, you
start with the fundamentals.
My first three posts focused on the importance of insight,
perception, and ideas. All great design is insight based—great
designers seek to know and understand for whom they are designing,
and powerful insights drive great work. As for perception, it is
crucially important for designers to constantly expand the way they
see things, to look for new opportunities within existing
landscapes, and to challenge themselves not to fall into habitual
thinking patterns. And of course ideas are foundational, with great
ideas being powerful accelerants of great design.
The fourth fundamental of great design focuses on the pivotal
role of story.
Story: Fundamental to the human condition
Stories play a fundamental role in almost every aspect of human
life. We use stories to record history and events, to share
information, to teach, to remember, to entertain, to warn, and on
and on. Every human civilization has used story in one way or
another. Author Ursula K. Le Guin said: “The story—from
Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace—is one of the basic tools
invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There
have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there
have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
Story: Challenge perceptions
Stories are so important because they are often the vehicles
through which we share ideas. Stories help people learn, absorb,
and retain information. Importantly, stories also have the power to
persuade people to adopt a different point of view and inspire them
to take action.
Consider the work done by AIS London for Harrison’s
Fund, an organization that raises money to help fight Duchenne
muscular dystrophy, a disease for which there is not only no cure,
but no treatment. AIS told a powerful story using only six words:
“I wish my son had cancer.” This incredibly short story perfectly
and poignantly challenge a parent’s belief that a cancer diagnosis
is the worst thing that can happen to their child. The copy goes on
to inspire readers to take action to try and make a difference.
Design that tells a new story
Stories are especially powerful in design for many reasons, one
being that stories serve as the link between our ideas and design.
Design is disciplined innovation, so by its very definition, design
always seeks to be original. While designers value originality, and
while original ideas can drive a distinctive position in the
marketplace, it is also true that we are often designing for very
familiar products and categories. So the challenge is often how to
use design to drive reconsideration of something very familiar or
re-ignite interest by telling a new story about something consumers
think they already know.
Consumers have come to know wines through characteristics such
as type of grape, vintage, or region. Brancott Estates’ claim to
fame is that all its grapes are from very specific “chosen rows.”
The brand’s story claims the best fruit comes from rows planted
north to south in order to capture the best light. Landor told that
tale with a 3D label with die cut and embossed vines that cast a
shadow as the light changes. The label tells an entire story in one
simple yet communicative piece of design.
Facts and stories
So often in business settings we trade in facts. We behave
rationally (we think). We are data-backed, statistically rich, and
highly credible. We think this is effective because we are usually
talking to other intelligent, rational, credible business people.
But in many cases, we aren’t as persuasive or as compelling as we
might like. And it’s not because our facts are bad. It’s because as
Roger Schank, artificial intelligence theorist, cognitive
psychologist, and former Northwestern professor said: “Human beings
are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up
to understand stories”.
Perhaps that is the reason we often hear politicians cite
percentages and statistics very quickly, but then spend time
telling anecdotal stories that put contextual flesh on the bare
facts. People respond to stories. Many stories are internalized and
remembered, and can be recalled again and again, while even some of
the smartest among us lose exact fact and figures. It’s the human
condition. Why fight it? Use story to your advantage.
We took this to heart when creating the new packaging for Oscar
Mayer’s Butcher Thick Cut Bacon. As you can see, the category was
in lock step from both a graphical and structural standpoint.
We could have created a design that followed these conventions
and instead used the facts about the unique product to gain
traction with consumers. But rather than a claim about this bacon
being 17 percent thicker than the competition, or two times fresher
than ordinary bacon, we let the design tell the story. Using the
back panel as the front, a paper substrate, and precision-crafted
type, we transported consumers to the experience of a traditional,
credentialed, and fresh butcher shop. Rather than assault them with
facts and figures about the product, we created a design that told
them a story about where the best meats originate.
Stories are powerful. Whether you use them to help sell your
design solution to your clients, inform your design, or tell a
story through the graphic system, stories are an effective tool in
any designer’s arsenal. Story—pass one on today.