Well-executed on-pack product imagery could make a positive difference in private brand sales.
When it comes to packaging design, product imagery is often the first thing consumers look at when comparing products. For decades, national brands have been leveraging sophisticated on-pack imagery to entice consumers to purchase. Retailers, though, were much slower to adopt such practices on store brand packaging. However, in recent years, there has been a significant trend among retailers to not only match, but also outdo national brands when it comes to on-pack imagery. Why?
Because retailers have come to better understand what the national brands have known for a long time. “Consumers eat with their eyes,” says Charley Orwig, vice president marketing services, Sailpointe Creative, Arlington Heights, Ill.
Beautiful images stimulate the appetite and consumers’ interest in the product, agrees Jim Kohlhardt, president, Digital Color Inc., Waukesha, Wis. Plus, the use of strong images on product packaging increases the likelihood that a consumer will try the product for the first time.
“Images are the doorway to our emotions, and the majority of purchase decisions are made emotionally,” says Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president of Toronto-based Shikatani Lacroix Design.
But imagery doesn’t just sell the product; it also communicates the brand’s personality, says Liz Reese, creative director, Kaleidoscope, Chicago. Imagery can tell a story and create a meaningful consumer experience that leads to brand loyalty.
This is especially important for store brands that cover a wide range of products across multiple categories, unlike national brands that typically reside in only one category, and that lack the marketing/brand building support that national brands have, states Helena Yoon, creative director at the Anthem Worldwide Toronto office.
“Therefore, the on-pack imagery and overall communication need to work extra hard to be both impactful and memorable,” she says. Unfortunately, store brand product imagery continues to be a shortcoming for a lot of retailers, says Todd Maute, partner at New York-based CBX. These retailers too often allow price to dictate the type of imagery they use. Custom photography with retouching can be very expensive, so many of them choose instead to use product photography provided by their manufacturers.
“Store brand packaging without ‘mouthwatering appetite appeal’ imagery just leaves too much to chance, especially when the national brand is right next to it on the shelf,” Orwig says.
A brief look back
But other retailers have come a long way. In the not too distant past, communication between the store brand and the shopper was one-dimensional with highly generic, function-driven packaging. Product imagery was also bland and understated — a purposeful reflection of the product’s lower price point, Yoon says.
“The intent of the downplayed design was to show consumers that private labels were just as effective but cheaper than national brands,” Yoon notes. “But instead consumers walked away feeling [store brands] were inferior.”
Years ago, store brand imagery felt basic and straightforward, Kohlhardt agrees. Often, the focus seemed to be on explaining what was inside rather than inspiring the consumer to choose the private brand instead of the national brand.
Today’s imagery trends
Fast forward to the present day, and retailers are more likely to be offering consumers sophisticated imagery on their store brand packaging. This is especially true for premium private brands such as those that play in the organic, gluten-free or
specialty space, Maute says.
“Retailers and suppliers are starting to realize that better use of imagery on pack helps to communicate the brand story, the product story, the taste appeal and the efficacy or healthiness or premium nature of the product in a much more strategic way,” he continues.
Imagery on store brand packaging today often displays the product as it fits into a balanced lifestyle, says Charlene Codner, CEO and founder of Toronto-based Fish out of Water Design Inc.
“In 2005, a box of fish fingers might have featured an image of the fish fingers with a side of fries,” she explains. “Today, the packaging would be more likely to feature an image of fish fingers on a bed of greens.”
Similarly, with more consumers purchasing organic and natural foods and products, a shift toward “Earthfriendly” packaging design has occurred with the use of more browns, tans and wood tones, says Paul Nowak, director of customer experience – packaging, QuadPackaging, Franklin, Wis.
Additionally, consumers are looking for “authentic, approachable and unstyled” imagery, Codner says. Young consumers are not interested in corporate-looking brands. They want to patronize brands that they perceive to be “more real.”
Also, imagery that is “clean, simple and natural” is popular among consumers, Orwig says. For instance, in one study, packaging that used imagery to depict the origin of the product — such as fields — was most well-liked by consumers.
“Consumers are looking for authenticity and a sense of discovery, and packaging is now reflecting these needs,” Lacroix says. “From ingredient propping to background point-of-origin settings, photography is trying to tell consumers an intriguing story about the product while also communicating trust and transparency.”
There is even a trend in some categories to use windows to showcase the product instead of photography or illustrations, Reese says. In doing so, the retailer is able to connect with the consumer and allow that individual to make a choice based on the “real thing.” Orwig agrees, noting that structures and designs such as clear windows that reflect unique points of difference or product attributes are more and more prevalent in store brand packaging.
Meanwhile, Yoon notes that some retailers are ditching highly representative product photography altogether in favor of artful illustrations, while others are using humorous or bold, unexpected images on their packaging.
When is it time to redesign?
According to Codner, we live in a culture of immediacy, and peoples’ attention spans are not what they once were. Therefore, it’s essential to keep brands fresh to stay relevant, and packaging is an enormous part of a brand’s identity.
“While packaging design typically goes through a facelift every three to five years on average, there isn’t a golden rule about how frequently a private label should refresh its imagery,” Yoon says.
Some retailers will even allow their packaging to sit on the shelf for five to seven years before deciding to refresh the whole line, Maute says. However, they might want to reconsider the idea that a whole line needs to be refreshed all at once. In some categories — for example, those that are commodity based — product photography has more longevity. In other categories — for example, those that are highly promoted such as snacks or meals — the dynamics of the packaging tend to change more frequently, so they warrant a packaging refresh more often.
“I think it’s important for retailers and manufacturers alike to stay on top of product innovation or category trends from a packaging perspective to ensure their product is still maintaining relevance and making a difference in the category,” Maute stresses.
“Brand marketers need to vigilantly watch their brand’s relevancy factor among their core customer base,” he says. “Change too slowly and you can lose the consumer to a competing brand. Change too often and you can confuse the consumer.”
Other factors could induce retailers to redesign their store brand packaging even faster. For instance, government regulations are having a strong influence on how often private brand packaging is redesigned, Reese says. There is currently a 12- to 18 month trend for updating and refreshing packaging to keep up with FDA regulations and new product formulas.
Plus, consumers have instant access to information while shopping in retailers’ stores. Therefore, packaging claims or information that is days or weeks out of date or off trend will stick out like a sore thumb, Orwig says.
“As shoppers continue to demand immediate gratification, pressure will continue to update labels,” he notes. Jason Pryor, design manager – packaging, QuadPackaging, agrees.
“As packaging continues to become integrated with mobile technology, the imagery itself may not change, but rather the digital content the customer is directed to for brand engagement [will],” he says. “Variable data, image recognition and other emerging technologies will spur the tie of media solutions into packaging.”
On the other hand, Chris Rockwell, founder and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based Lextant, cautions retailers not to get too carried away with packaging redesign. “Change for the sake of change can be a disaster,” he says. Instead, he recommends that retailers refresh product packaging only when necessary and when it will truly benefit the retailer’s customers.
Originally published in Store Brands