Oct 11

These days, my main interest has swung over from package design to in-store communication. Why? Because I find that so much more could be done in this area to trigger sales! Today, it seems that brand managers focus on sticking logotypes…  Yes, we need strong branding to attract consumers, but what is more important than a brand logotype is to give the consumer a real reason to buy a product (or a service).

Modern supermarkets have no sales people to attract consumers to certain products, so either call-to-action texts or mouth watering appetite appeal illustrations will have to do the job.

So why this article? Because during our yearly holidays in the West of Ireland, I met the master in in-store communication: Henry Keogh in Oughterard, Co. Galway. He runs a shop with all-weather clothes, boots and shoes, plus housewares, gifts and crafts. Henry never went to a marketing course or business seminar, as he is the typical down-to-earth, commonsensical self-made man. He took over the shop from his father who had set it up some 60 years ago. The first sign when entering the shop says: “Make sure to view the whole shop. It travels back a long, long way. There is also an upstairs”.

Henry, a smiling and charming Irishman certainly lives up to the Chinese saying: “Don’t open a shop if you can’t smile”. When I visited his shop, I was smiling to myself from all the learning I got from the excellent call-to-action texts such as “Books and novels, have a look”, “Feel free to try on our knitwear” or “Yes, we are open on Sundays!”

Wherever you turned in this Ali Baba’s cave, I was told that there was something for me and if it was sold out, the text read: “Sorry, large jars sold out, new stock arriving soon”. My favourite text reads: “We are happy to offer you our unique seletion of gifts, much of which will not be found anywhere else”.

If someone understands the power of loaded words, it is certainly Henry with words such as fantastic, value, unique selection, etc. He highlights the key words as for instance “Our value and selection will not be beaten”, or “Fantastic value, Nicholas Mosse Pottery. Prices have been reduced by 20%”. To have the word “Look” stand out, Henry added eyes! The top image show him together with his son, hopefully the next generation at John P. Keogh in Oughterard!

So when a small shop owner out in Connemara can do it, why not the big FMCG companies I’m working for? Well, hopefully after having read this article!

Sep 02

Lars Live!

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Uncategorized

Did you know that you can have Lars’ learning live?

Lars can come to you to analyse your designs, teach your people or entertain your clients.

The articles on www.packagingsense.com come to life when Lars speaks with the help of a flip chart , an OH projector and a collection of slides. He has also case studies to involve the auditorium. He can do a 2 hour presentation as well as a full day teaching. All you have to do is to pay him a first class train ticket or a business class air fare (first overseas), a hotel room and a sum of money to cover the cost of preparation (didactic material, printouts, etc.) He even still has a few books to sell!

You will no doubt like his unique style of teaching and you’ll have a few hours of fun! Book him now by contacting “lars.wallentin@me.com”

Jul 19

Many years ago, Nestlé tried to launch KitKat in China, with little success, as the recipe was wrong (for the Chinese), i.e. too much chocolate, two little biscuit and too expensive.

With a different recipe, “Nestlé Shark” was launched at the correct price and recipe. The shark was not there from the beginning, but as Nestlé had learned from Nesquik and Milo, they added a spokesman, an icon, i.e. something emotionally stronger than a logotype. Why? Because the product can be copied, but never a strong, memorable and unique icon! Nestlé’s cheaper version of KitKat was indeed quickly copied and, as can be seen from the illustration, there are many similar products on the market by now.

So what is the learning? It’s very simple: An icon, a spokesman, is much stronger than  a logotype and does a better job, but it has to be big and placed in a prominent place on the package. Just ask Kellogg’s – they know this!

May 06

It’s about selling

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Uncategorized

As far as I see it, package design is all about selling a product to a new consumer who will hopefully be satisfied and come back! As I have no real influence on the product itself, it is my job to stimulate purchase through exciting package design. To do this, here are the ten points which all play a role and which have to be optimised in one way or another:

1. The Reason-to-buy (RTB)

If the package design does not clearly inform why the product is great tasting, convenient, practical, etc. I have missed out on the main point. Well, in certain cases, information about the product is not necessary as, for instance, if millions are spent in other media as for a Mars bar or a Coca-Cola can. However, there are very few such products in the food and drinks category.

2. You have to convince

It is not enough to have a clear RTB if it is not communicated in a convincing way. It is surprising to see the hours designers spend to optimise the logotype or the product illustration, forgetting that the RTB has also to be designed to convince.

3. Concentrate on ONE message!

I once read that inexperienced communicators believe more is better. That is why the front of most packages which are often ‘designed’ by young brand managers are too crowded. If you have more than one strong message, I suggest you print ½ of the print run with one and the other ½ with the other message. This is more efficient than to let the one message compete with the other one on the same surface!

4. If you are not seen, you cannot be bought

Simplify in order to amplify! If you can amplify your RTB, your appetite appeal, the convenience (e.g. only 3min. cooking time!), then it must be presented in a clear and convincing manner (see above). Too busy designs do not stand out and become un-noticed!

5. The pack design cannot do all

When a client asks me to design a pack, I always start to define a concept, i.e. a big idea thanks to which the package becomes the main media. I show what the POS material can do, what an outdoor poster has to do, or what a print ad in a weekly journal can achieve. It is the sum total which means synergy; 1+1 suddenly become 3! If you repeat the same message in the same execution on all media, 1+1 becomes 1! It is the role of the designer to explain this to the brand manager.

6. Make the back, or service panel interesting!

90% of all back panels are totally non-interesting. To use the word ‘design’ would be wrong, as the meaning of the word ‘design’ is about interest, simplicity, harmony, clarity, efficiency, etc. and I see nothing of this, unless the pack is from Special K, Innocent or Arla. I always say that the back of a pack should be as interesting and easy to read as a freer journal like Metro, 20 minutes, etc.

7. You must be ecological

No doubt consumers in the Western worlds are, by now, aware of the fact that we have to take care of our planet. It is therefore important to tell the consumer how to get rid of the pack once it has done its job. Here we are dealing with two different worlds, the one that has adopted the incineration as part of the solution and the world that still ‘hides it in the Earth’! Whichever world you live in, you should be taught on the pack how to deal with it!

8. Surprise!

Yes, surprise! Because if you do not surprise, you do next to nothing. When I say surprise, I mean ‘within the product category’, as you must follow the rules of the product category in question. Any good pack designer knows these rules, i.e. how to achievde freshness, how to amplify taste, etc. Consumers see differences, not always what is better. Design helps to differentiate.

9. Instill trust!

How do you do this? Best is to constantly work on the image of your brand and its identity. I believe in strong branding which means a powerful brand logotype, brand icon or brand message. When during your shopping you are constantly reminded of a brand identity as for instance Kellogg’s, it means: strong brand = trust! As a young designer, I participated in a workshop in London given by Irv Koons, a famous pack designer from U.S. He said that when you are happy with your job, increase the brand by 20%. How right he was!

10. Be available!

It is the job of a brand manager and the sales people and obviously not the designer to see to it that the pack be available, i.e. well placed in the shop. However, what a designer can suggest is to suggest POS material to help the consumer discover the pack in the shop. A pack design is so to speak backed up with hard-selling trays or shelf-ready corrugated boxes, etc.

However great your pack design is and you have only one facing among 5-6 other brands, you will have difficulties to stand out. So do your best in applying the above advice!

Mar 28

We just published part II of what I read and as it was written some months ago, some books were not yet published and some were forgotten. So here are 4 more which I have had great pleasure in reading:

“Creating Shared Value” about Peter Brabeck-Letmathe who told me at least 50% of what I today know about marketing in a big multinational company (which is equally valid for smaller companies). The book can be found in both English and German. It is written by Friedhelm Schwarz and published by Stämpfli Verlag AG in Bern.

Another book which I would recommend, although printed in French only, is “Ces emballages qui changent nos vies” by Anne-Marie Sargueil and my friend Jean Watin-Augouard, published by the Institut Français du Design. To obtain a copy, please contact +33 1 45639090 or write to the Institute at 5, Rue de Messine, FR-75008 PARIS, or go to www.institutfrancaisdudesign.com. The book tells the story about all those great European brands from Nivea to Cadbury, from L’Oréal to Danone.

The third book is for calligraphy aficionados who prefer to write with a pen instead of typing on a keyboard. It’s called “The Missing Ink” and tells the story of this endangered art form.

Last, but not least, I have to mention one of the best books ever: the second version of the Pentawards, edited by Taschen, a real gold mine which belongs in every package designer’s private library! Just a pity that the cover is miles away from the stunning cover of the first book, the great banana cover which stands out in any book shop and invites to be looked at. Imagine if Taschen had had the obvious idea to use the same cover, but with another colour combination… how simple! It seems that today’s designers use too much graphics which the consumers do not understand. Well, I hope that when book III comes out in a year or two, they will be back with the banana!

Happy reading!

Mar 20

In my book, as well as on this site, I have written about those books that have had an impact on my way of working and inspired me to do things a little differently.

New books appear constantly and by now I’ve become a fairly good client at www.Amazon.com. Here are the new ones, or some which were not mentioned in the earlier article:

The least expensive and most remarkable pop-up book I ever came across is Marion Bataille’s “ABC3D” from the Roaring Brook Press (a Neal Porter book) printed in China (where else!) as there is a lot of manual work involved. Stunning, or, as the text says, “Boldly conceived and brilliantly executed. Prepare to be amazed. Turn the pages of this remarkable book and you’ll be treated to 26 dimensional letters that move and change before your eyes. C turns into D with a snap. M stands at attention. X becomes Y with a flick of the wrist. And then there’s U…” As Marion Bataille is French, I just say “Chapeau bas!”

The second book all designers should have is my friends Brigitte and Jean-Jacques Evrard’s collection of Pentaward winners by Taschen called “The Package Design Book”. A real treasure, with a second edition on its way.

The third book which is a must is George Lois’ “Damn Good Advice (for people with talent)” at Phaidon. 120 advice how to communicate, mainly in advertising, but valid for any chosen media. I totally agree with some 117 of these advice!

Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is another book I read from A to Z. It’s about how creativity works. Maholm Gladwell’s comments to this book read as follows: “Jonah Lehrer’s new book confirms what his fans have known all along – that he knows more about science than a lot of scientists and more about writing than a lot of writers.”

The book of 2011 was for me Saul Bass: “A Life in Film and Design” (Laurence King Publishing) with a foreword by Martin Scorsese. Some 1’400 illustrations no doubt attract the reader, but I personally liked most of all the comments on design, creativity, humour, work process, craft, God, retirement, etc. Comments which I would have liked to have said myself!

Last, but not least, there is a book which has inspired me, especially as it underlines what designers should be, i.e. thinkers and problem-solvers. The book is “Bob Gill, so far” from Laurence King Publishers. Let me quote Ed Brodsky who writes in the foreword: “Gill’s latest should be required reading in every design school. His book has nothing to do with what’s hot… everything to do  with solving problems and letting go of preconceptions about how design is supposed to look.”

Happy reading!

Feb 18


One of my favourite books is by Fabrice Peltier, edited by Pyramyd and entitled “Art, échanges créatifs”. Why do I refer to this book? Because it deals precisely with the subject I wish to write about, i.e. can a pack be art? In this connection, I picked out the great French verb “emballer” which means to pack or to wrap, as well as to be carried away by enthusiasm.

Here I should like to make a small digression: In Montreux, back in 1970, when I went to register the birth of my daughter Jessica, I was asked about my profession. I answered that I was a “spécialiste emballages” at Nestlé, whereupon the lady behind the counter wrote “emballeur” on the birth certificate… and indeed, I am still passionate about my job!

This question of wrapping/packing and art leads me to a visit I made recently to Mrs Ulla Ahrenberg, the fascinating widow of the Swedish art collector Theodor (“Teto”) Ahrenberg (✝1989) who was a fervent supporter of young emerging, as well as established artists. Some of them came and worked and/or lived with the Ahrenbergs in their house in Chexbres, a village next to where I live. A fascinating list of artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Le Corbusier, Arman, Chagall, Niki de Saint Phalle, Tinguely, Sam Francis, Kantor, Christo, etc.

When I met with Ulla, it is these last two artists which drew my attention as they are real “emballeurs”! Christo of course, more well known for his large environmental works together with his wife Jeanne-Claude and Tadeusz Kantor, a Polish artist, mostly known for his theatre plays. Both have written manifestos on “wrapping”, Kantor wrote his while visiting the Ahrenbergs in Chexbres.

It would be too long to quote the manifestos, but one could say that the act of wrapping something up is an artistic process. Art critic David Bourdon has described Christo’s wrappings as a “revelation through concealment”. To his critics Christo replies, “I am an artist and I have to have courage… Do you know that I don’t have any artworks that exist? They all go away when they’re finished. Only the prepartory drawings and collages are left, giving my works an almost legendary character. I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain”.

I know this is a bit far-fetched, but is it not what pack designers do… wrap something up that goes down the bin after use? Nothing remains.

Coming back to my visit to Mrs Ulla Ahrenberg and looking at the art which she showed me, two things caught my attention. The first was a page in a Kantor brochure for an exhibition in Krakow where texts are printed perpendicular to each other, thus doubling the space available for information. I have ‘preached’ this since many years for brand managers who think that there is not enough space on a back panel for all information.
The other fascinating discovery was a book wrapper by Christo with the followig text: “Please do not unwrap the inner parcel, which is an authentic work of art conceived and executed by the artist Christo in the form of a ‘package’. Christo’s art form consists of wrapping objects, and the shape, binding and various attachments of these packages should not be altered”.

And finally there is this chamber pot containing ‘something wrapped’… not even Ulla Ahrenberg knows what is in this piece of art by Christo!

As the reader may have understood, I am in favour of a more artistic touch in package design. And why couldn’t one mention the designers’ names on a package today? They would certainly merit to be known!

Feb 04

Calories don’t count…

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Uncategorized

The other day, I read about the ban on large sugary drinks in NYC and also that McDonald’s will clearly indicate the calorie count on all their menus… all this in the hope that it will reduce obesity in the US. I know very well that my opinion on what to indicate on food and beverage packages differs a lot from what governments and nutritional specialists prescribe. What I suggest in this article is not a solution, but a contribution to today’s debate about the problem of overweight among the population.

I hope that what I suggest can enlighten a little the debate as I find that too much deals with figures which very few people understand or even are interested in.

During my Nestlé years, I was exposed to a variety of cultures and I learned, little by little, what really interests the consumers. Having always been interested in communication – and what better place to communicate than at the back of a package – I got the nickname “Mr Back panel”. Here is what I’ve found should be on this service (back) panel.

First: How to best enjoy the product, i.e. preparation instructions.

Second: an easy readable ingredients list, preferably positive text on a light background, short lines as in a newspaper, typesize at least 6-8 points, i.e. at least 3mm height set in lower case lettering.

Third: nutritional information per 100g, i.e. proteins, calories, etc. not necessarily in table form so as to save space. However,

  • this should not be obligatory on products like Tabasco, etc. where you only use a few drops;
  • if the value is 0% or 0g, don’t print it! It liberates space for other important texts which can then be bigger. (This is plain common sense!)

Then come other essential information such as

  • big website and QR code (to obtain further information);
  • storage instructions;
  • highlighting ingredients which may cause allergies, etc.

So long, so good! And now comes the surprise for some readers…

Instead of the GDA, I would, on the front, inform the consumer about the positive sides of my product, i.e. taste, structure, flavour, digestion, stimulance, etc.

On the back, I would start ‘educating’ the consumer that in order to avoid overweight it is all about the balance of “calories intake vs. calories burnt”. Those who learn how to eat, drink and exercise will most likely never have a weight problem. I would print at the bottom of all my packages the following message expressed as “good habits rings”:

Space is available for these rings if one deletes duplications of certain information and reduces what is legally not obligatory. The rings can be explained as follows:

Blue ring

Exercise! Move! i.e. burn the calories you get from these tasty food and drinks. As earlier generations had not yet invented the car, they walked from one place to another which kept them fit. The body is in best shape if being active.

Yellow ring

We should promote the pleasure of food, to sit down and enjoy, i.e. be aware of aromas, flavours, etc. and avoid eating on the go which is just replenishing the stomach. Cultures where food is taken ‘more seriously’ (China, Italy, France, etc.) have less obese people!

Red ring

As a producer of food and drink, I am obviously not interested in selling less! I just want the consumer to eat differently, i.e. less each time and more often.

Yes, I know you can’t explain all the above on a pack, but by repetition of the 3 “good habits rings” the consumer is always reminded of the basics for a healthy lifestyle.

Maybe the above is wishful thinking, but I hope that when the legislators discuss what to print on packages and how, they take the above into consideration.

Jan 22

If you look up the word “merchandising” on Wikipedia, it says “the display of products in such a way that it stimulates interest and entices customers to make a purchase”. I had this word on my mind when I visited the Montreux Christmas Market with some 150 stands offering everything from handmade candles to oysters.

There was one ‘outstanding’ stand that made me stop on my way to the cinema to see Skyfall, a stand selling only one product: chocolate-coated cream mousse. There is apparently no English word for what we in Sweden today call “gräddbulle”, in Austria “Schwedenbombe”, although it is a Danish invention from 1807!

I had to wait some 10 minutes in order to take my photo, waiting until the crowd in front of the stand dispersed. Why? Because the owner of that stand fully understood the word “merchandising”, i.e. to make it easy for the client to decide. Why? Because the display is simple, easy to grasp, well arranged!

Here we have basically one product, but in 6 varieties (milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cinnamon, etc.) to give the client a choice, as we all have different tastes when it comes to chocolate products.

What more? The service was rapid (the vendor took the products from boxes behind him so as to not destroy the attractive display). The price was ‘simple’, i.e. 2 CHF per unit, so no lost time to look for a lot of change on either side.

One says “You first eat with your eyes”… and here the various chocolate colours even amplified the taste sensation! This was one of the stands at the Christmas Market in Montreux that constantly had clients to buy, i.e. sales per hour were very high!

My motto “simplify in order to amplify” couldn’t be expressed in a better way! It goes without saying that the learning from this stand would be equally valid if the products were presented in a package with high appetite appeal or, even better, with a window, as consumers want to see what they buy!

Jan 16

… for better communication and stronger branding!

To have a colour (or colour scheme) as key visual is good. To have a colour and a shape or icon is even better. To have a colour, a shape/icon and a type style, preferably in the logotype, is the best of all! Why? Because it gives you more freedom to be creative around the visuals, still amplifying your identity and not watering it down.

There are a few good examples as for example Toblerone (triangle, orange/yellow colour, typography) or Nesquik (yellow, Quiky and typography), but the one I’ve decided to analyse today is Beiersdorf’s NIVEA.

When I did my last weekly store-check, I saw a special Winter promotion called “SWEET moments” which reminded me of last year’s promotion “WINTER Dreams”, in both cases a big tin containing various NIVEA products.

I had a great collection of NIVEA creams (which hascrumbled down since I have the habit to leave behind great designs when I teach) with hearts, landscapes, people, etc. These designs don’t go as far as the new “WINTER Dreams” or the “SWEET moments”, but I have my favourites such as the brilliant heart in the snow or the highly emotional ‘mother and son’ dressed in blue.

As may be seen from these examples which all amplify the basic blue NIVEA identity, the freedom does not only come from the different backgrounds, but also from different words as WINTER, SWEET or LOVE.

I have no examples here, but I am sure that Beiersdorf use other words with “NIVEA typography” for POS material as for instance “NEW”, “FREE”, “OFFER”.

In today’s crowded market place, the winners are those brands that reduce words to a minimum (which can be done when the words are in a logotype style), stick to their house colour(s) and use the icon/shape in a creative manner. This will strengthen the brand identity at the same time as it will communicate something that can lead to SALES!

P.S.: Even NIVEA is today the victim of young brand managers who want to change package design when not necessary. The two NIVEA Soft designs are a good example. Believe it or not, the one to the right is the new design!

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