The global economic and environmental crises are changing the way the cosmetics industry approaches its packaging strategies, as Carol Houghton reports
‘Recessions change the relationship between brands and their consumers,’ says Amy Bridgman, director of creative and strategic brand planning at consultancy pi global.
The good news is that while other markets are experiencing a downturn in sales, consumers are still splurging on cosmetics to treat themselves. Bridgman explains, ‘A powerful reaction to lean economic times is "the lipstick effect" where, still needing to reward, consumers are seeking out smaller ways to make themselves feel special. Cosmetics and toiletries are the perfect solution. A new lipstick, beautifully packaged, can reward as much as a new outfit or handbag, without the financial guilt.’
Robert Bergman, creative director and president of Bergman Associates, confirms the impact the recession is having on his clients’ designs. ‘As the world financial slump drags on and on, brands are finally coming around to the realization that they need to reexamine their antiquated packaging strategies.’
A linked trend is towards nostalgia, magnified in the UK, for example, by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This has spread globally and Bridgman is keen to point out that the trend is by no means caused by specific celebrations. In current uncertain economic times, she says, ‘Consumers are connecting with a nostalgic past that is reassuring and safe, a time where life was simpler and easier.’
Bridgman says, ‘Brands that have a story are telling it. Those that don’t are creating one; reviving skills, customs and old technologies to communicate the nobility of craftsmanship and the honesty of provenance and their connection to it.’
Another result of tough economic times has been the growth of private/own label brands and more cosmetics are now sold in supermarkets than independent franchises. Andy Connacher, managing director at the Whitewater graphic and design agency, says private label packaging design is getting increasingly sophisticated. ‘Own label brands have mirrored the bottle shape of big brands and the label design is no longer plain and poorly designed, in fact it rivals the big name brands.’
Robert Bergman agrees. ‘Gone are the days of surviving with a mediocre packaging and lackluster design. Today’s customer requires more – and “more” means greater spending on investigation of new finishes, printing techniques, groundbreaking custom structures and most importantly, design with more personality, bolder, more powerful communication and better design. All of these factors need to be addressed because differentiation has become the most important tool for success in today’s market.’
Robert Bergman is adamant that you can no longer ignore green. ‘The aspect of “eco” is being included in more and more briefs. Carbon footprints, post-consumer waste, and reusable and multi-purpose packs are turning up, clearly because the customer is demanding it. Being a designer who has always been interested in ecology and preserving nature and resources, it’s an exciting time to be designing packaging because we get to explore all the ways that a product and pack can “go green”.’
Bergman Associates recently designed the packaging for Pureology hair care products. ‘We initially proposed a range of designs and design concepts that explore ecology in many ways – how product is dispensed, the “single-mold bottle” we designed, or creating “multi-use packaging”. The final design utilizes the same mold that is used right-side-up and up-side-down without having to re-tool any parts.’
Bergman adds, ‘Besides Pureology, we’re also getting more requests to incorporate just one or two “eco” aspects into designs in ways such as thinner walled bottles, design of bottle using more post consumer waste and that incorporate more eco friendly materials.’ There has also been a move against PVC, with L’Oreal, for example, banning its use two years ago.
As the world becomes more concerned with sustainability, screen print is becoming popular to add authenticity to the look and feel of packaging. Andy Connacher explains, ‘People want to see that a label is made of recycled materials but if it looks too clinical, they won’t believe in it. The advertizing and label need to relate – including texture – there is no point advertizing a green product if the label looks too perfect to have been recycled.’
A related trend is to use clear, natural design elements, often featuring fruit, to emphasize closeness to nature.
By contrast, high-end products like skin care range Vinchy continue to use a stark white, clinical appearance to clearly differentiate themselves.
A new way of thinking
Amy Bridgman notes brand owners are beginning to integrate their marketing and packaging strategies far more closely. ‘Brand design is no longer being left static.’ Brands are creatively using their in-store real estate and creating campaigns that are played out on ever-changing labels designs. These designs ‘build a conversation with their consumers, connect with their lives and turn them into loyal brand advocates, hungry for more.’
Leveraging this ‘conversation’ into a physical form has proved successful for high end cosmetic brand Kiehls, using limited edition labels to constantly refresh the brand. The flagship product, Crème de Corps, has sold on its basic label branding since 1851. In 2010 it introduced personalized labels – such as ‘To…from…’ labels at Christmas and replaced its iconic shop image with a heart in time for Valentines Day – when it began selling in top end UK store Selfridges using the whitewater personalized label service.
The company has continued this marketing technique – with the addition of gold limited editions – to create differentiation and catch the consumer’s eye but still sells the original label to retain the brand’s traditional reputation. Kiehls has also partnered with a succession of charities for limited edition labels.
L’oreal Kids labels follow a similar strategy, featuring film characters in a series of a vivid designs tying in with new Disney film releases.
Andy Connacher expects on-line marketing and smart technologies to be increasingly important routes to market. ‘Whitewater has been approached by a lot of brands expressing an interest in incorporating augmented reality into their packaging’.
Cosmetics brands are now linking their in-store presence to online offerings through the use of QR codes and social media, Bridgman says. ‘This unlocks a potential for interactivity so far unseen. Brands can’t afford to stand still. They need to offer the consumer more than just a product to retain their edge over more price competitive own label brands’.
Bergman says the biggest challenge is finding a way to get the brand’s ‘romance, knowledge-base and back-story into the consumer’s hand (and mind). Any marketing professional knows that if you can succeed at that, you are on the way to brand success. And technology is making it simpler and faster to supply that romance to the customer. For instance, the incorporation of a QR code into a pack’s design can take a customer to the brand’s website or mini-site.’
For the recent launch of Redken’s Chromatics Hair Color, Bergman Associates incorporated a QR code onto the packaging and repeated the same code on all collateral and advertizing to bring consumers to the brand’s video, where they could find use directions, tips and additional material. ‘For the future, we are waiting for the next generation of QR code concept – a way to access all kinds of product info and enticement without having to be at a PC or smartphone. Whoever invents this technology will completely change the shopping experience’.
More products are now being purchased over the internet, creating a different role for the label. Its current role of creating shelf appeal and providing product information becomes redundant for internet shoppers. According to Connacher, purchases will be more about product perception. But the label retains a key role post-purchase: ‘You would think less of a product if it arrived without a label. The label is a tool to portray the product’s value and convince the client of its quality.’ He concludes, ‘The label is becoming part of the brand and product, it is a reason to buy a particular brand.’
New ways of working
Robert Bergman sees brands in the middle of a rapid transformation. ‘Companies are quickly understanding that their way of working has to change – and that means that the ‘Design Request for Proposal (RFP)’ is quickly disappearing.’
The RFP originated as a tool for commissioning mostly government work or fixed commodities and services, but during the 80s and 90s, it started creeping into the design world. It was seen as a way to drive costs down for packaging design work from firms that were providing broadly similar services.
‘But in today’s market, you can’t afford to have similar or mediocre design, and you can’t compare design firms “apples to apples”,' says Bergman. ‘The RFP makes no sense because finding a firm that can design your brand into success is a much better business decision than what, essentially, was a tactic for finding the most desperate design agency. Most successful design firms – and especially those firms that create unique creative work – simply opted out of design RFP’s.’
Bergman says a well-written brief has replaced the RFP. ‘A brief that is complete, well thought through, proactive and concise makes it possible to achieve the most valuable results – getting great design that creates great success, even in a tough market’.
Pictured: Kiehls uses limited edition labels to constantly refresh the brand
This article was published in L&L issue 4, 2012