Freed From Apron Strings


Ever since the 1970s, when – thanks to visionaries like Michael Peters – branding and pack design agencies untied themselves from the apron strings of the advertising world, the value of great pack design in driving sales has been increasingly recognised.

However, just what constitutes great packaging design?

Most commentators will agree that great design starts with a genuinely-strong idea – one that is rooted deep within the brand.

This is fundamental to the design being able to convince consumers that they need the brand, right now; this could be because it’ll do the job better than any of the brand’s competitors or perhaps it is, quite simply, irresistible.

We’ve learned quite a lot about ensuring design delivers sales success over the years, having worked on many of the UK’s leading brands; not to mention 20 years working with Asda on packaging design projects including several major food ranges for its Chosen By You and Extra Special brands. One key thing we tell clients is: make sure you get the message right and make sure you get that message across!

Getting the message right isn’t about knowing what’s in vogue at this point in time.

It’s all about understanding what drives your target market to purchase your product; why are consumers buying your brand? What message will motivate a purchase?


Once you understand these drivers and have developed a proposition to resonate with consumers, you need to communicate this single-mindedly and with absolute clarity.

Even in small categories, shoppers are presented with a myriad of choices. If they can’t understand your offer instantaneously, they’ll simply move on.

Gu, the premium dessert range, communicates its message perfectly. From the black, minimalistic packaging to the simple beautiful photography, every element of its pack design conveys a ‘premium’ feel.
Its proposition couldn’t be clearer; a special dessert, worth spending a few pennies more on.

Getting the message across is all about visibility. This is an absolute pre-requisite to success: great ideas are only great if they are seen!

Despite this, visibility often receives little more than lip service from the design community. It’s assumed it will occur naturally as a by-product of the design’s creative brilliance.

However, the truth is that most packs in a supermarket aren’t seen. We can even show you the film evidence! So, to improve your brand’s chances of standing out on shelf, you need a strategy for achieving this and a method for testing it. You can’t rely on serendipity.

When researching packaging design, people are faced with a problem. This is that, because shoppers recognise products and brands automatically – at a subconscious level – they can’t easily provide feedback on design elements that actually drive recognition.

This means that a radical redesign of an established brand can effectively render that brand invisible.

Methods such as eye tracking can help us understand the ‘visual language’ of categories, and the colours and shapes that drive recognition and understanding.


If there are compelling reasons for radically changing an established pack design, the marketing team needs to think carefully about how to manage this change.Where the relaunch is supported by advertising investment, this should heavily feature the new packaging, thus giving shoppers an opportunity to learn about the changes, and enable them to
recognise the redesigned product in-store.

If advertising spend isn’t available, it might be wise to consider introducing the new design in stages – thereby maintaining some visual continuity throughout the process.

In a recent experiment at a marketing trade show, we challenged visitors to find the top 10 advertised products, which were ‘hidden’ amongst the leading 100 promoted goods.

Coca-Cola, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the easiest to spot; it was found fastest, and was the only product located every time. Participants found many other leading brands much more difficult to find, especially those that don’t ‘own’ a distinctive colour or shape.

The introduction of new technologies and processes, such as UV and conductive inks, are presenting even more opportunities for brands to make their packaging really stand out.

It’s an exciting time for the industry but one we shouldn’t get carried away with.

The end aim of pack design is to entice consumers to buy into the brand and, ultimately, purchase the product.

Keep sight of this, and your pack design will undoubtedly deliver you sales.