Oct 25

The other Beer Designs

Posted by Packaging Sense in Bottles | Uncategorized

One of my recent articles was about respecting category norms. But, as always in life, there are exceptions to the rules and here I’m going to deal with an interesting case.

Beer bottle labels or beer cans are usually simple in order to achieve shelf impact. Oval or round shapes are used, as well as contrast and strong, memorable icons like the Heineken Red Star.

However, there is another way of making your label (or can) unique and that is to use what we call ‘storytelling. There are many examples, but today, I limit myself to 4 stories:

  • the Vikings
  • the raw materials (ingredients)
  • the castles
  • the unique local cultures

There is no question that the paraphernalia designs of the Norwegian handcrafted Viking Aegir Brewery made a great impact on me. Graphical masterpieces! This is a great example of selling a product thanks to design. I just wonder if 9 varieties are not 5 too many?

The Danish Skovlyst that I bought in a 4-pack at the Copenhagen Airport is no doubt also a good example of an outstanding design level. The beer is brown, but I believe that the green colour can also be used with success in the category.

As beer brewing goes far back in time, it is obvious that there are many brands relating to castles, at least in Europe.  The Swiss Feldschlösschen  (“Little castle on the field”) is my local beer that uses the almost obligatory oval shaped label, as well as the castle and the hop.

Another Swiss beer which I get on the Swiss airline flights comes from the Canton of Appenzell, known for its rural customs and traditions. It couldn’t be more ‘Swiss’, including the cow with a bell and the small sheep dog!

What’s the learning? Well, if you have a unique and memorable concept and the beer tastes good for the locals, you are in business!

LW/October 2016

Oct 25

The Kirin Promise

Posted by Packaging Sense in Bottles | Uncategorized

Until recently, I held the American Budweiser label as the best front label text in the beer category, in fact in the whole food and drink world. We all know that it states the following: “This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Aging produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.” Also the temporary rebranding to “America” has some quite exciting words worth reading.

However, when analysing the Japanese Kirin Ichiban label which is as much of a masterpiece as S. Pellegrino, I discovered great English communication. I obviously cannot understand the smaller Japanese text. By the way, for those who do not know it already, the Japanese consumers prefer by far French or English texts, giving them the idea that it is a superior product. ‘The grass is always greener on the other side…”

Using loaded words as prime, purest, 100%, premium, etc., this beer must be good and indeed it is!

Today, we highlight the icon more than the brand. The Kirin, a legendary mythological Chinese creature that portends good luck, certainly helps to render this label unique and timeless.

For more information, I suggest you visit the Kirin Ichiban website.

LW/October 2016

Dec 12

The art of surprising

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

If you don’t surprise in one way or another… you do nothing! Quite a radical statement, isn’t it? Well, it is slightly exaggerated, but there is truth in it. If we are in the business of marketing, selling and reaching out towards consumers, we need to be seen, listened to and be convincing!

Now, you cannot do this with me-too designs, unless you have a very low price, which most companies do not have. Thus you have to surprise to awake interest. You don’t learn this from the guideline, nor from best practice. So the only way is to increase creativity and do something that, within category norms, surprises.

The ways to do this are numerous. They are not easy, as there are often several people ‘in the way’ before you reach the consumer, people you need to convince, impress, people who have strong egos, people who say “not invented here”, people who don’t believe in the power of design, etc.

But there is a solution if your BIG IDEA which you have developed to sell the product is so BIG that it speaks for itself, i.e. does not need explanations. There are now and then such great ideas. How about the ipod, Pringles or Red Bull?

How do we arrive at these great solutions? There are basically 5 prerequisites:

  • knowledge
  • gutfeel
  • creativity
  • persistence
  • salesmanship

If you are weak in any of these areas, you have less chance to SURPRISE the consumer.

Now what can you do to surprise a consumer when it comes to package design? I’ll try to give three ideas.

FIRST: Question the briefing

If you follow the briefing to 100%, you will most likely do the predictable and your client will be satisfied – you are not of the ‘creative type’. Question the briefing! Try to challenge the standard marketing thinking. Don’t disregard the briefing, but try some field a little outside the box.

SECOND: Create a big idea

The big idea is a concept and therefore you have to think “total communication” and not only package design. Certain things can be done in package design, others in POS and others in advertising. The pack design will surprise if it does not contain all of the ‘ingredients’. The saying “simplify in order to amplify” is very important here. The surprise is often something amplified, even exaggerated. The surprise can be amplified through various media.

THIRD: Work on material and shape before graphics

As we are so fascinated today by the design computer, we have a tendency to use it too quickly and thus concentrate on layout, illustrations and text.

Great surprising packages are often not graphic design, but shape design. Surprising packages are often the result of the combination of materials, plastic for transparency and cardboard for stability.

Surprising packages often mean cost increases as you may need a new filling or closing line. But have you realized that great packages speak for themselves, so you may need less other media? At the end of the day, the total cost may be the same and as you most likely will be more unique and efficient, you will sell more and isn’t that what it is all about?

Apr 10

The Ararat Experience

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

Mr Musheg Mkhitaryan, native from the Ararat region in Armenia, is a very special man. He not only built a water factory in the Ararat Valley, but after three unsuccessful design studies, he saw me on Russian television and decided on the spot that I was his man to help out with his project.

To make a long story short, we met in Geneva one Friday evening, whereupon I flew to Yerevan the following Wednesday. In order to help designing the identities for the brand and the company Ararat, I said: “I must see what Ararat is all about”. I had of course heard about Noah’s Ark and also about Armenia being the first Christian country in the world.

After two days on the spot, I got a good idea of this very special project. I chose my friends at ARD in Vevey to design the labels as they have talented designers, a reasonable price level, a capacity to cope with some 25 designs and last, but not least, were willing to follow my advice as a creative director.

Why do I tell the story? Because it took us only about two months to finalize the project. We are obviously proud of the result and when the bottles will be available in Summer, I am sure people will speak about the Ararat water.

Why only two months? Because we were given the freedom to work ‘the correct way’. Here is what happened: I wrote and designed the briefings together with the client, in this case Mr Mkhitaryan, the CEO himself, accompanied by his marketing manager, Nadezhda Gulaga. From the very beginning, we had the same objectives. The company Ararat should have strong category labels and I should add art, culture and character to the designs.

We worked stepwise, beginning with my magic marker sketches which were discussed on the spot in Yerevan with the client. These rough sketches showed the three different directions: tradition for Ararat, modernity for another water brand and taste for a lemonade brand.

The design agency ARD then translated these concepts and produced 2-3 design solutions for each brand. Even if we had to re-do one of the brands (we had not followed the client’s wish… thought we were more clever!), we managed to finalize the designs in only two steps and thus also kept down the costs.

As the Ararat Group had decided to trust my advice and as I had decided to trust an agency which had proven to have a high creative level, we moved very smoothly forward, still letting personal taste have some influence over the positionings of the three brands in question.

These designs will not be tested as we see no reason to ask consumers what they think of designs that clearly express the positionings. The products will be sold in Armenia and in Russia, but it is obvious that the Ararat Group hopes to see this water one day in all Europe!

The conclusion I have drawn from this experience is as follows:

  • the higher up design is being dealt with in an organisation, the more efficient;
  • you do not need 5-10 alternatives from your design agency if you set your goal together and work stepwise;
  • an agency must have marketing- and design knowledge, as well as copywriting capacity;
  • the agency can be anywhere in Europe, as long as the key meetings are held with real eye contact! Design is an emotional business and it is important to be able to read body language.

It goes without saying that of the many design projects I have taken part in, this was my most passionate and efficient one! Future will tell us if the designs were the right ones.

Jan 09

Special Editions

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

… how to create something so unique that word-of-mouth becomes an efficient marketing tool.

First of all we must make a difference between a special edition without any other marketing activities and a promotional package.

In the first case, if well done, there is a very small extra cost, e.g. just a new lithography, while in the case of a promotion, there must be a real return-on-investment if considered successful.

Why a special edition? … to revitalize a brand and put it ‘top-of-mind’, in other words to do something different in order to be noticed. However, as always in marketing, no change for change’s sake! The change must produce a synergy effect, i.e. something must be added to the brand by

  • being closer to the target group;
  • a more contemporary image;
  • a stronger identity;
  • making the pack a collector’s item.

There are many good examples, but as it is easier to explain bad ones, I start with two brands that just ‘play around’ with the identity which one should avoid.

Kronenbourg 1664

The other day, I bought some of the cans which play around with the four figures… I question the idea behind it? In my opinion, it will do nothing for the brand.


I think this design is too far from the core idea. Well, as I have not seen any other communication, I may be judging it too severely, but here again, as in the case of the Kronenbourg 1664, I feel one is just ‘playing around’ with the brand.

Now, over to some good examples. I have basically ten categories and hope that some of the examples will inspire the reader to do even better!

Celebrating the original

Kellogg’s is very good at this, repeating quite often that they have the original (and best) cornflakes. I like the example I found in my native Sweden which reads quite prominently “There is only one original”.

A touch of nationalism

We are all more or less nationalists, so why not play on that string? Here is a Norwegian example from Freia (Krafft) that says it all. Do it big or stay in bed!

Seasonal editions

This is by far the biggest category. The masters are Nivea of which I have chosen two examples, as well as one from Ferrero. However, my favourite is the yearly edition of the Tuborg Christmas brew. In fact, the beer is slightly different so maybe it doesn’t belong to this article, but I hope you agree that it is great design, highly emotional! Just while I wrote this article, Nestlé launched a Winter yogurt!

Using personalities

Coca-Cola is doing some great designs for the Coca-Cola Light aluminium bottle with Karl Lagerfeld! Another French example is Perrier (a brand that often has special editions), using sexy Dita von Teese. In this category, we also find the highly sophisticated Coca-Cola aluminium bottles inspired by Daft Punk, the French electronic music group.


My three examples show the great variety which means that there are still many untapped events for special editions. S. Pellegrino had for some months a special edition for the Cannes film festival. A few years ago, during the European Football Championships organised by Switzerland and Austria, Mars changed their Mars bar into “Hopp” which is how the Swiss celebrate their team (“Hopp Suisse”). The third example is Perrier’s Roland Garros tennis edition… a new version every year!

Special shapes

Well here, some cost increases will occur. However, this is the most visible and powerful way of creating a special edition. Didn’t Kleenex’ triangular shaped box win the Diamond Pentaward two years ago? The Evian drop bottle from year 2000 is today sold on eBay for 20x the initial price. This is an excellent example of a collector’s item!

Special materials

As Absolut will never change their bottle shape, what do they do? They dress up the bottles in various materials from plastic to cloth or to metal. Another very popular solution is to sell your product in a metal tin which then stays in the home to be used for other products for many years Kambly’s biscuit tin is just great packaging!

Design and Art

This is a category where I personally would like to see many more examples. Milka uses art now and then, so did S. Pellegrino last year with a special Missoni label. I would add to this category the excellent Heineken aluminium bottle for night clubs and other places with special light effects which make the can glow! What a difference with the “1664” bottle mentioned earlier in this article!


Another way to boost sales is to tie up with another brand. Marmite has done this a couple of times. As we have here a new product, maybe it doesn’t belong to this article. But it is just great marketing!

Social Marketing

I believe this will be a growing category in the future. The example I chose comes from Sweden and it was launched just before Christmas some years ago. Who would not be willing to pay a premium price for a product if the extra money goes to the Red Cross?

As the reader may see, the possibilities to create special editions are numerous. I have no sales figures about the chosen examples, but I know that consumers expect constant change from big brands. Just ask Google!

Oct 03

Be top-of-mind

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Trends | Uncategorized

… thanks to creative package design.

Let it be said straight from the beginning: Don’t play around with your identity, nor with your package design! You will only water down your identity, tamper upon brand image and maybe even destroy your price policy.

By changing a part of your pack design in order to increase the attraction of your product, you may achieve any of these improvements:

  • • strengthening the brand
  • • perceived added value
  • • reinforcement of the positioning
  • • seen as more contemporary
  • • better communication

This can also be achieved with promotional activities as done in a category like breakfast cereals. But a promotion can be a risky business if you don’t coordinate it properly.

To do something with your package design is not risky and costs you only new artwork, new printing plates or cylinders. Why do I say that it is less risky… because if you have found out how your present design is perceived, seen and appreciated, you will know which part of it is untouchable and which one you can vary. If the design is changed in the right direction as is often the case with the Toblerone triangular pack or the round Nivea cream tin, then you are strengthening your brand in the consumer’s mind. You may call what you do “a special edition” to increase the perceived value, but this is not necessary. What is important is that the consumer gets a feeling for a certain urgency, i.e. if she doesn’t buy the product now, it will be too late when she visits the shop next time.

What you do to your design must also be seen as an improvement or as added value. This is why ‘playing around’ is strictly forbidden!

Having followed some companies over the years, I have come to the conclusion that they must have found out that such controlled changes must be profitable!

As I write these lines in June 2011 the Cannes film festival has just ended, but I am reminded of its importance as I drink my S. Pellegrino “Hommage à la dolce vita”. I thought it would be impossible to do such a thing to an iconic label as S. Pellegrino, but no, it was a success! As was last year’s version with the Missoni labels. These two examples show that if you have a clear and simple positioning as S. Pellegrino has, such changes will enhance the brand and make it even more appreciated, and valuable!

Apart from Toblerone, Nivea or Kinder who in principle don’t change their product, I should like to mention here the Ritter seasonal designs. I recently bought a “Summer Delight 2011” Stracciatella, unfortunately not an attractive label design, but clearly a special edition they did to make the Ritter brand stay top-of-mind during the Summer season when less chocolate is purchased.

To those who will have a try at changing their design, I can give the following advice:

  • • Find out the consumer’s view on the design which may be very different to your own view as to identity and communication.
  • • Make the change so big that it is immediately noticed.
  • • Focus on the brand’s positioning!
  • • Try to add humour. If the consumer smiles when she sees your pack, you have a winner!
  • • Don’t be afraid to overlap even your logotype. See what TIME, ELLE, etc. do every week.
  • • Stay within the colour-scheme you have. Don’t add new colours!
  • • Make it unique. Surprise!
  • • Plan it well in advance so you have time to check if you are within the positioning limits.

Now, just do it!

Jun 28

When teaching design and communication I often ask the question: Why is Coke so big and why will KitKat most likely become the second biggest FMCG product?

I never get the right answer. I get comments about logotypes, identity, colours, shapes, etc. which of course all are part of the story.

The correct answer is TASTE! Do you purchase a second time something you don’t like? We very often overlook what the former CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck, said so well: “A strong brand tastes better, but the real strength of a brand is only as strong as the product behind it”.

Obviously identity, design, branding, a slogan, etc. play a big role for these brands which are, in my opinion, well dealt with over the years, but without constant updating of product quality and product packaging these brands would not be what they are, icons in a world crowded by products, services and experiences.

Which brings me to packaging, as this is so often synonymous with the product. It is in the world of packaging where Coca-Cola has been, during the last decade, very creative with both material and design.

Most new versions of the famous glass bottle have been close to the original (middle), but Coca-Cola has also, for very small editions, gone very far (right and left).

If these designs seem quite different one from the other, we shall not forget that the content is always the same and it is precisely this content that makes it the biggest product on earth!

May 16

Stamps in packaging

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

No doubt my main hobby became my profession when I selected packaging way back in the 1950ies! My other hobbies are:

  • table tennis
  • jazz
  • calligraphy
  • stamps
  • photography

Collecting stamps is an obvious hobby as I love to write and thus need stamps to send off my letters from wherever I am on this earth. By buying stamps in various post offices (there are not many left!) it struck me how related stamp design is a reflection of the general design level of a country.

It is not by chance that the most attractive stamps come from countries in which one can find a high design level. Those countries are for instance Canada, USA, UK, Sweden, Australia. There are of course countries which have specialized themselves on issuing stamps as a business. Such a country is Liechtenstein, but the design, although of high quality, is very traditional.

I am looking for stamps that inspire and here Germany and the Netherlands come quite high up on my list, as well as an ‘emerging market’ as China. Hong Kong having been a British colony has obviously been inspired by the high British level with the gold embossed queen to give it a very special look. My native Sweden is especially great with highly stylized, refined engravings which please a calligrapher as me.

May be I should add that, as a stamp collector, one has a tendency to choose a special theme in order to reduce and focus on one’s passion. In my case I have collected all table tennis and most jazz stamps.

Do stamps appear on packages? Yes, especially in two product categories: tea and coffee, as well as wines (Australia). One of the most interesting wine labels I ever came across is a Portuguese Douro wine sold in Germany which has a label divided into 13 ‘stamps’ all highly interesting to read.

It is surprising to note that when people write fewer letters and post offices close down, postal services in many countries continue to issue great stamps. I am happy to see this as one of the most difficult jobs a graphic designer has is to develop a great idea on a small surface… well, in a similar way to package design!

Oct 04

When designing for print, POP, packaging, outdoor, vehicles, etc.:

1.       determine priorities (simplify, amplify, delete);

2.       determine what will be ‘the BIG one’ to catch attention;

3.       amplify contrast (drop shadows, halo effects, etc.);

4.       introduce a touch of surprise;

5.       be flexible with key visuals. Adapt so that they maximize communication and size impression;

6.       exaggerate appetite appeal;

7.       3D gives depth! Take advantage of what your design computer can do;

8.       make your icon more important than your logotype. It has more emotion;

9.       reduce text to a strict minimum;

10.    verify your communication by asking the opinion from a third person.

Jun 17

Great Learnings

Posted by Packaging Sense in Bottles | Design | Logotypes | Trends | Typography | Uncategorized

Guinness just redesigned their 50cl draught can. Did you notice it? Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that they did it right. This is unusual as today we mostly see up-datings or modernisations without real logic or common sense thinking – just playing around with different elements. Here are seven learnings:

An icon is more involving, more emotional and has a stronger visual impact than a logotype;

A brand logotype does not necessarily have to be on top of the front panel;

An RTB, i.e. reason-to-buy or call it USP, Unique Selling Proposition, is needed to position the product in the consumer’s mind. The one on the new design is “Brewed in Dublin”.. where else? This is the real stuff, not something brewed in your local Carlsberg or Heineken brewery;

A signature as in this case “Arthur Guinness” always adds tradition, thus quality;

Don’t change for the sake of change! Neither the harp, nor the Guinness logotype have been touched. There was no need for it as both are already well balanced designs;

Combine if you can in order to reduce the number of design elements. The “Est. 1759” is now part of the harp. Great thinking!

Better use of space. On the previous design there was a lot of empty space, not on the new one.

Whoever did this, congratulations!

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