Showstopper Packaging: the Power of a Bottle

September 23, 2015
By David Weinberger

I recall a business meeting where my team hosted 20 colleagues from Japan. At the end of the meeting, each and every one of our guests twisted the cap back onto his soda bottle and placed it in his bag. I had noticed cultural differences via greetings and meeting behaviors throughout the day. This action, however, transcended customs and geographies and I realized in that moment that appreciation for beauty and art is a universal human trait. These people “liked” this showstopper packaging design and decided to keep it. These particular bottles were the streamlined metal Coke and Diet Coke bottles, and would undoubtedly be put on display when they returned home.

Historically, consumers held onto packaging only if it served a functional purpose. Cigar boxes, coffee tins and Quaker Oats canisters were repurposed as storage or toys. They ended up sticking around for days, months or years as subtle reminders of the brand. Growing up, I can remember having Folgers cans in our basement filled with nuts and bolts. The Container Store wasn’t ubiquitous in the 80s, so my dad improvised. As a result, I will never forget those Folgers cans.

Functionality will keep an old package around. Creating something that consumers find beautiful enough to hold onto is another. There are two major benefits to showstopper packaging.

The first is impressions. Traditional advertising is on the decline, social media is on the rise and brands around the world are challenged to connect with consumers in unique and personal ways. Showstopper packaging delivers strong, personal impressions over and over again. When you pick up a pack, that’s an impression. When you eat or drink the product, that’s an impression. And when you display the pack, you get a new impression every time somebody so much as glances at it. That’s as good as advertising. I’d like to go so far as to say “free advertising,” but it’s not free. It costs money to design and produce showstopper packaging. These impressions, while small in scale, are so valuable because they reach the unreachable to manufacturers: homes and offices.

The second major benefit is creating incremental sales. With showstopper packaging, consumers may choose to buy an item just to keep, use or display and still buy a separate package to consume. Any kind of olive oil sold at Williams Sonoma is an example of this. These packages work hard to show off the beauty of the product, and as a result double as decoration. If a consumer wants to display it and consume it, he or she will need to buy two. This is a huge win for brands, and one that the post office has been pulling off for years by encouraging people to collect stamps. Showstopper packaging also reaches a subset of people who wouldn’t ordinarily buy a particular product. If a pack is notable, they may be inclined to purchase it as a gift or put it on display, resulting in even more incremental sales.

There are many benefits to packaging that consumers want to keep and all are linked to sales.

For new food and beverage brands, great packaging is needed to stand out on the shelf. So much has been done before with form, substrate and graphics. To enter the crowded vodka market, Crystal Head Vodka designed a glass skull. These bottles were undoubtedly designed to grab attention and give consumers something interesting to display at home. New brands can also use showstopper packaging to create the perception that their brand and product has value.

For existing brands, showstopper packaging can be used to make news and cause people to pause for a second look. Many brands take advantage of licensing partnerships, throwback designs, designer series or sports team themed seasonal packaging. A strategy like this will certainly get people to take notice, but doesn’t necessarily convey a sense of increased value that showstopper packaging does. Miller High Life recently commissioned a designer series, but there were very few variations and multi-pack cases did not carry the variety. Thirty of the same doesn’t say “special.”

The way to create a showstopper package for food and beverage is to create something that people want to hold in their hand and put on display. They need badge value. They need to be cool — like the metal coke bottles that my Japanese colleagues carried home with them. And even more so, like the original coke bottles: showstoppers.

Originally published in Smartblogs.

Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola.