In Part 2 of our Golden Age Of Packaging 3 part blog series, we examine how thoughtful packaging can serve as a bigger marketing and media experience for consumers.
Back in early 2016, when Evan Spiegel, the co-founder and CEO of Snapchat (or more accurately, Snap, Inc) was asked to describe his Gen Z and Millennial favored social media platform, he stated “it was a camera company.” According to a Piper Jaffray Report in 2016, Spiegel’s “camera company” was named the most important social network by teenagers. Not the company whose mission was to help connect the world (that would be Facebook) nor the company cited years ago as an entertainment platform by its founders (that would be Instagram). No, the most important tool in a teenager’s arsenal was one that helped document and share their lives in ephemeral images (alongside a dancing hot dog) via their phone or a pair of circular $130 sunglasses.
Now certainly, what a difference the past two years make. Once a darling of the tech world, the common conversation around Snap these days ranges from whether their IPO was overvalued, can the company innovate fast enough to compete with competitors or the increasing decline of their DAU’s amongst a slew of other topics. Regardless of whichever direction Snap goes, it is inarguable that the company has been one of the most influential companies in the past few years. And that such a company self-prescribes not to the technology, media, or entertainment worlds but instead, but as a visual documentation entity, should be a telling sign of demographical taste and behavior. And perhaps Spiegel senses a bigger opportunity for his brand in planting a firm stake in the world of visual communications.
For those aged 36 and younger (Millennials, Gen Z and ensuing demographics downwards), there has always existed some semblance of digital communications. For those skewing on the older scale, the painful sounds of dial-up connection were the route to connecting with friends and representing oneself through a clever AIM name. Those on the younger end have never known a life without carefully curated and discerningly filtered vacation pictures, feelings and statements expressed in 126 characters or less and seeing every activity of their friends and family represented in timeline-form. For the latter group, the habit of and familiarity with documentation has naturally progressed into that of self-representation.
The continued rise of social media platforms, in its increasingly sophisticated forms and features, have undeniably amplified both the means and desire to “self express” and the weight and benefits of those actions. Individuals who’ve figured out how to monetize these actions become “Influencers” with the rest of us following along, sharing our lives and those brands our lives intersect with. And those companies savvy enough to understand the opportunity this new mindset provides them? Well they get to see their brands live out in a myriad of additionally beneficial ways.
Unsurprisingly, some of the best examples of brands creating unique ways of integrating into their consumer’s lives and personal brands are ones whose founders are apart of these generations. Brands such as Glossier, Warby Parker, Kylie Cosmetics and Alexander Wang all provide interesting examples of leveraging their customer’s appetite for self-representation through the brands they consume. Using design as the primary tool, the brands packaging and points of purchase are tailored-made to be photographed and shared, cultivating a loyalty and affinity from its users and those literally, “Following” them.
Packaging for the ‘Gramming
Glossier is a digital-first and youth-targeted led beauty and lifestyle brand. Google “Glossier” and you can read a myriad of glowing articles and reviews on its products, business model or Millennial founder. In the articles, a handful of “product as porn” photographs accompany the copy; face lotions and lip balms meticulously shot and angled, with sunlight bouncing off its container or sitting amongst other beautifully “millennial pink” hued products. Most likely, you’ll see them set against a “millennial pink” place mat of sorts. It all looks professionally photographed. But, look again. See the familiar Instagram frame? The image isn’t from the company. It’s an image from one of the brand’s many countless fans.
#glossierpink and #glossierinthewild are only two of the many hashtags on Instagram its fans tag of their newly purchased products or sometimes, of a similar pink hue they stumble upon in the world that reminds them of their preferred beauty brand. While the products themselves, which are meticulously and obsessively reviewed on many blogs and more Reddit threads you can count, are supposedly the “hero” of the brand, what’s more interesting is the community the brand has built that evangelizes the brand all on their own and mostly on visually-driven social media platforms. Creating a fan of one consumer through thoughtfully made products is great; equipping the same consumer with boxes, stickers and place mats so they can shout out their love to their followers…who in turn, shout out their love to their followers, that’s packaging that gets extra mileage.
Equity through Affiliation
Savvy brands understand the start of the product experience doesn’t begin solely at use. More accurately, it begins at point of purchase regardless of whether the item is bought IRL or URL. Warby Parker’s in-store retail experience and customer service is consistently lauded; but the first sole experience the buyer has with the product is the retrieval of the glasses from the Warby Parker branded cotton tote bag the purchase comes in. The glasses are the star but the package its housed in begs to be re-used and why wouldn’t you? It’s re-usable, well sized and the cache of being affiliated with a millennial-friendly non-conglomerate, socially conscious brand (as oft-told, an additional pair of glasses is donated alongside each purchase) reflects nicely off your personal brand.
The packaging bypasses its designated life as a disposable container. Instead, it both contributes to a more premium “un-packaging” experience and gets an extended presence into the user’s life. The brand is carried around like a badge and the user reaps the benefits of functionality and cache. And to think, it could have just been a plastic bag.
Packaging as Access
The popularity of the Kardashian family backed, Kylie Cosmetics line has not been without its controversy. It’s faced many accusations, amongst them– re-packaging old colors and re-selling them to re-appropriating another artists’ work. However, the brand, since its introduction in 2015 (initially as Kyle lip kits), was a hit from the start, amassing long queues of overnight campers at its sporadic pop-up shops and racking up pages of press-hype salivating at each of the brand’s product launches. Products sell out within hours of launch and social media images pop up shortly of ecstatic buyers gleefully showing off their new purchases.
Alongside the product itself, the branded packaging serves up opportunities for social-media driven/social-media worthy attention. Visit the brand’s official website or official Instagram page and you’ll see as many product shots as you do packaging shows – all meticulously angled and beautifully lit. Visit any fan hashtagged paged on Tumblr and you’ll find similar shots. The many distinct design elements that make up the brand- from its main lip logo to her cursive signature not only adorn the products and packaging but the promotional swag sold along side the products themselves.
The product quality itself is oft questioned but it’s undeniable that its purchasers are buying the products, which apparently have many “dupes” in the market, for the brand equity. They’re not buying for the cosmetics, they’re buying the ability to flaunt access to the products. These coveted products are limited in quantity and only the diehard few get them…or more accurately, get to them.
The product provides function but the packaging serves as social currency representing access. Currency to the ‘Insta-Generation’ isn’t necessarily about high prices or exclusivity beholden to those high prices; instead it’s about accessibility. Or more accurately, the ability to access and consequent ability to document the access on social media.
Delivery as Brand
Collaborations between perceived high and low fashion brands have increasingly permeated the industry the past couple of years. Billed as “exclusive,” the collaborations are typically released in limited supply leading to massive re-sales on websites like Ebay sometimes hours after a launch. Similarly, “sneakerheads” have perpetuated a similar re-sale culture but not necessarily for special collaborations but new releases in general. In both cases, while most brands were initially angered by their profit margin losses due to these re-sales, some have leveraged the unique “business model” to their advantage.
A couple of seasons ago, streetwear inspired fashion designer Alexander Wang collaborated with Adidas to create the ‘adidas Originals by Alexander Wang Capsule Collection.’ The line was inspired by a subversive take on the storied sport branding; for instance, the Adidas logo was turned upside down and one shirt had a screen-printed contract between Wang and adidas. The guerilla-style marketing was inspired by the sporting goods re-sell market; a truck driving around New York would make stops, buoyed by seemingly obscure flyers and well-timed social media posts a few hours beforehand. Hypebeasts queued to buy the items handed to them in very distinct packaging: black plastic garbage bags. As in the garbage bags you throw out, well…garbage in.
The re-sell market is a peculiar beast; it’s not necessarily illegal but it’s undoubtedly frowned upon as 13 year-old teenagers scoop up the merchandise in droves only to later sell it at 10 times the markup.
The entire transaction of the Alexander Wang and adidas collaboration was a nod to the re-sale culture- beginning with underground-like marketing and ending with the final garbage-bag designed encased wink to the unauthorized nature of the transactions.
Ultimately, brands miss out on integrating more deeply into their consumer’s lives when they fail to utilize aspects of the purchasing experience such as the transaction or packaging. It’s not a new notion that the brands consumers buy contribute to representing a certain image they want to convey; however, the proliferation of social media platforms has made self-representation easier to amplify and thus much more enticing. Last year, Instagram expanded its Instagram Direct messaging feature to incorporate a Snapchat-esque feature, Instagram Stories. When the company’s Product Lead for Sharing was interviewed by Techcrunch, he stated “There’s a shift right now… with a generation where the main way they communicate is their camera.” If visual imagery is indeed the main way current generations are choosing to “share about” themselves, it would be in a brand’s best interest to figure out how to play a better role so they become more integral in their consumer’s day to day. And if the solution is through a more thoughtfully designed package, perhaps one ready to be photographed, what’s stopping a brand from participating?
Stay tuned for part 3 where we look at how different design cues can serve a bigger purpose beyond “packaging.”