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My 4th book is now available (the first is sold out). It has a very clear message: how to improve the copywriting, as well as the layout on the back/side panel of your pack. As the previous ones, this book is directed to schools, design agencies, brand managers, sales forces, etc… well, anyone interested in […]

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Typography, a communication tool

Typography, a communication tool

Once I heard that typography was a “beautiful group of letters and not a group of beautiful letters”.

Oct 22

The ultimate information panel

Posted by Packaging Sense in Trends | Uncategorized

This panel should on purpose not be called the “back panel” as the word “back” immediately leads us to believe that something is less important. Another possible word could be “communication panel”, as the main purpose of this panel (be it side, top, bottom or back) is to achieve a dialogue with the consumer.

It is difficult to make a checklist of what has to be communicated and in which order (hierarchy) as it all depends on

–          if the package has one or several languages;
–          if it is a high involvement product, as for instance prepared fish;
–          if it is a low involvement product such as a soft drink or a snack bar;
–          if the package is a carton, a label or a bottle, etc.

However, there are a few suggestions that can be useful to any designer or marketing person when designing this panel.

First, delete what is not necessary! The fewer elements/information we have, the bigger, i.e. clearer we can make those which the consumer really needs. Therefore, it is suggested to

–          not repeat the brand, as the consumer has picked up the product and knows what brand it is;
–          not repeat the product denomination for the same reason.

If the product is one which needs preparation, this is the most important information and should therefore have the biggest type size in order to easily be read, even in the supermarket’s busy environment. The position can be anywhere, if highlighted, but obviously the preferred position is on top.

Each producer or brand should personalise the back panel by adding, even before the preparation, an introduction text such as “Hello! welcome to a tasty experience!” or “Thank you for having chosen our product!” or “To enjoy this soup, take your time!” in order to open a kind of dialogue to strengthen the emotional bond with the buyer.

Why then should the preparation text be first or biggest? For the simple reason that, if not properly prepared, there will be no repurchase!

In a world where prepared or ready to consume products can be considered as too industrial, it is important to install a dialogue with the consumer to overcome a possible negative opinion. This is done by highlighting as much as possible the consumer service address (telephone, snail-mail, e-mail or website). This is best done by using symbols such as a mobile phone or, why not, a smiling face?

Some products need big and clear nutritional information, be it an explanation, the product’s key nutrients or just the nutritional values in table form. On other products, this information can be small and just next to the ingredients list (obligatory), as very few consumers do need this information on products such as sweets, desserts or softdrinks. Let common sense prevail!

Very appreciated on certain products are tips of how to combine with other products or how to add further pleasure by adding cream, a drop of olive oil or a touch of wine.

As prepacked food and drinks in their packages are often seen as polluting the environment, it is essential to somewhere give clear instructions how to best get rid of the package, be it for recycling or just in the garbage. As each region, city or country have different legislation or collecting systems, it is difficult to give specific advice, but a sentence like “be a good citizen, dispose of thoughtfully” is no doubt of value.

It goes without saying that there are various legal symbols or texts that have to be added to the above, but as they do not interest the consumer, make it small, but legally correct. I’d like to see on all packages a kind of quality seal which tells the consumer that packaging is not something negative (ill.).

As word of mouth advertising is considered the most convincing method of reaching new consumers, it is suggested to sign off the panel with something like “if you like this product, tell your friends, if not, tell us… thank you!”

In fact, the best service panel for a food pack is a panel that communicates

  1. how to best enjoy the product;
  2. how to best establish a contact with the consumer;
  3. how to best explain nutrition;
  4. how to best group less interesting information;
  5. how to best dispose of the package.

    September 2014

    Sep 16

    Why do so many consumers have a negative opinion about packages? There are mainly 5 reasons:

    1. too difficult to open;
    2. too small texts, practically unreadable;
    3. overpacking – too much material or too big a pack in relation to the product/content;
    4. incomprehensible changes to product, i.e. package design;
    5. no handle for heavy packs and other ergonomical weaknesses as ‘slippery’ (unstable) plastic bottles in the bathroom.

    All these weaknesses could be corrected if the will to do it were there, which is unfortunately seldom the case. As the reader of this website has certainly understood, I am particularly interested in the service (back) panel which, as I see it, is still quite catastrophic, as pack designers are not specially interested in making texts easy to read and brand managers do not really care…

    Well, in one market in Europe, i.e. Norway, this is changing thanks to the Norwegian Association of the blind and partially sighted (NABP). NABP is at the moment running a campaign for “readable texts on packaging” (see ill.) where they use the big “U” as an icon with the website “”, which eans “non-readable-norway”.

    They pick out particularly bad packages, advertising, etc. and use, as headline, “up with the text” and then add the culprit, be it a brand like TORO or a TV company as Telenor. In showing the bad example, the headline even says “the worst of this week”! Wow! What a lesson for all designers (if they read the ads, of course!)

    Now, the attentive reader will most likely make the standard comment that I’ve heard many times: “…but there is no space to make it bigger!” which is wrong, as a designer can always make space available!

    This can be done if

    – you reduce the amount of text;
    – you print the text positive and not negative;
    – you print in the seams;
    – you reduce the size of the barcode;
    – you make use of the QR code, as some text is not obligatory on the pack;
    – you understand what the average consumer is really interested in (which is mainly the ingredients list and not so much the nutritional GDA, etc.) and you structure the information and do not slavishly follow what the predecessor did;
    – you use just common sense and not best practice and you do not automatically follow blindly company guidelines!

    A big hand for NABP! You are doing a great job! Have just read your journal “All About Vision” where there is no text below 10-12 points!

    August 2014

    Jul 16

    The living brand

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Trends | Uncategorized

    In teaching Marketing, one often compares a brand to a living person. Why do we do this? Because a great brand must be ‘living’, either through new product developments or through constant change of its visual appearance. When I say “change of appearance”, it does not mean a change in any direction. A great strong brand has always a clear positioning and that’s what decides what can be done to continuously stay top of mind.

    Some brands do this very well, as for instance Coca-Cola with their special editions or Toblerone who play with their specific typography.

    As we are in the middle of the World Cup when I’m writing this article, I would like to ‘promote’ a great design and that is the World Cup’s special edition of “Pringoooals”. If you wish to always be top of mind, you have to do something to your pack. Toblerone and Caprice des Dieux are good exampes.

    A few weeks ago, the well-known French cheese Caprice des Dieux has, as almost every year, a special edition where the word ‘Dieux’ has been changed into ‘Mamans’ (mothers). I have no figures on what extra sales such temporary changes do to sales, but as Toblerone does it since at least 10-15 years, it must pay off!

    July 2014

    Jul 16

    I think each designer and especially the pack designer should, after having finalised a job, take some distance to the work and analyse the communication.

    During my years at Nestlé, I always showed my design to the cleaning lady who came each evening to put order in my cubicle and asked her “what does this pack design wish to say?”. If the answer was “I understand”, I knew at least that my message was clear. If she could not see the message, I knew I had a problem. Please note that we do not speak of the aesthetics, nor the graphical style or layout which is a very personal matter.

    As far as I can see, it is the designer, i.e. the expert who is the best judge regarding the execution and not the consumer, nor the brand manager.

    The reason why a package design often does not communicate correctly is that we mix up message with graphical aesthetics.

    I suggested in the beginning to take some distance from your job, meaning  physical, i.e. from the mock-up, surrounded by packs from the competition (and not just looking at the computer), as well as from a communication point of view. Does the design awake interest? Is the icon or illustration emotional enough, i.e. memorable, etc.? I claim that a good part of pack designs are rather average because the designer has sort of filled a surface with information instead of structured a communication.

    This is even more evident in print media, especially on outdoor posters, at least here in Switzerland. How about this ad for a pair of glasses (unstructured) compared to the Czech pack design (structured)?

    July 2014

    Jul 09

    Nespresso Vertuoline

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Pack Attack | Uncategorized

    Believe it or not, I’ve got two Nespresso designs to comment upon in Pack Attack.. Wow! What an honour, especially for me who was there when my colleague Rudi von der Emden designed the first Nespresso pack back in the 80ies (or was it already in the 70ies?) What makes this analysis so interesting is that there are two clients/targets.

    First: the sales people in the Nespresso stores who have to pick the right variety , looking at the end panel only, and

    Second: the consumers who handle the pack (tube, bar) from the moment they buy it in the store or receive it by post. The consumer is interested in

    a)     the variety (strength, taste, etc.);

    b)     the size of the capsule (coffee or espresso);

    c)      seeing a quality design as one pays a premium price.

    As the reader most likely understands, there are two types of information.

    I am a long-time fan of Nespresso and use it as an example of great design when I teach (pack, interior, advertising, etc.) and I’m obviously interested that the pack design be optimal which is not yet the case with Vertuoline. Here are my comments which should be taken as learnings and not as criticism. I have not seen the briefing for this new variety so there may be issues which I don’t know and, of course, there is the personal taste as to what great design should be for a super premium product. So here they are:

    1. A far better opening device is needed. One that functions and is clearly indicated. There was a great article in The Grocer on 25.1.2014 regretting how little companies care about this aspect of pack design.
    2. Why not have the same visual identity for each variety at the end and the front panel?  I do agree with the colour coding which is harmonious and elegant, but why design part of the “N” and not the shape of the capsule as it is different from the standard Nespresso?
    3. I fully agree that the front panel must express quality/elegance. By adding the (colour) capsule next to the denomination (almost not legible today), it would render the pack even more interesting and with a clearer communication for the consumer. “Nespresso Vertuoline” can still be subdued and embossed as today.
    4. Back panel: as boring as most Nestlé packages (and packages in general!). I agree there are many legal requirements, but it could be reorganised in a different way to give space for “the Nespresso story”. That is to say why Nespresso is the first, the best, the most unique and No 1 in the world of capsule coffee. I also believe that the reference to Switzerland can be increased as Swiss quality is a worldwide notion!
    5. Side panels: These could be used far better to explain

    –          cup size

    –          number of capsules

    –          strength

    –          taste

    and last, but not least, a short call-to-action text like

    –          “never run out of capsules, re-order in time”;

    –          “did you also try…?”

    –          “have you told your friends about this great coffee?”

    –          “when in doubt, choose the original”,

    –          what else…

    My dear Angèle who sent me these packs: you are a pearl! We met first at the Reims University many years ago and I see how you, like several students in your class, will never be satisfied with the result and thus constantly try to look for improvements. Congratulations!

    I hope some of my comments can be useful to anybody interested in pack communication!

    May 2014

    Jul 09

    Talking packs

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Uncategorized

    Those who read regularly know that the back and the side panels of a pack interest me as much a the front panel. The same applies to the communication at the point-of-sale and on the pack. So it is certainly not a surprise for you to understand my admiration for what the very creative Swiss cooperative group Emmi is doing these days.

    Emmi developped in 2004 an on-the-go Caffè Latte in a highly practical plastic mug. This milk drink has become Emmi’s biggest marketing success and is now available in several markets.

    As the main target for a milk shake is a young (in mind) generation, Emmi has understood, as have Innocent in the UK and Michel & Augustin in France, that some kind of dialogue is a key element for this consumer target.

    Also, it did not take Emmi many years to understand that a practical display is a must to be better seen on the shelves. They developped a corrugated tray and, over the time, Emmi added sales messages and not only their logotype as most competitors do.

    What I appreciate most is that if you embark on a dialogue with your consumers, you can constantly add new messages which today is not a costly thing and, if you do it right, it is not a logistic problem.

    Here are a few examples of what Emmi does today.

    June 2014

    Jul 09

    What Lindt has learnt

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Trends | Uncategorized

    I constantly repeat: “if you are not seen, you cannot be bought”. Lindt discovered, probably a bit later than Ferrero, that surprising, highly visible POS material, i.e. shelf-ready corrugated displays, sell more. So they now use their Easter Bunny in a prominent way to promote this product. Here the product and the pack are basically the same. Not only is the aluminium foil speaking the language of protection, but the icon, i.e. the rabbit, is far more important than the brand. As you know, animals are emotional which brands are usually not.

    After the Easter Bunny came the Christmas bear which, at least here in Switzerland, was the most visible display at the end of last year. So Lindt probably said to themselves “how can we have a Summer animal?” and here we go again, not yet with the product in the shape of the animal, but at least with yet another idea: a duck!

    And what a duck! Easy to memorize thanks to its shape/form and the yellow colour. If the product lives up to the design, Lindt has once more hit the jackpot!

    June 2014

    Jul 09

    Story is King!

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Uncategorized

    Why do consumers buy a product in the supermarket? Because they found it, they liked it and it has become part of their life. That’s ok and quite logical. However, if you wish to sell more of your product, there are mainly two ways to do it, either

    –          you find new consumers, or

    –          your present consumers buy more…

    This article is about finding and attracting NEW consumers who hopefully then fall into the second category.

    Brand managers in most of the large multinational companies believe today that the key to new consumers is branding. They are not totally wrong, as a strong popular brand no doubt attracts new consumers. But if the brand does not mean much to them as it is little known and not much money is spent on advertising, what can you do? Well, you tell a great story! We all love stories and we are all attracted to know more about something that looks interesting! This is the golden opportunity for creative pack designers, i.e. tell an intriguing story about something related to the product.

    To understand what I mean, here are a few examples from different parts of the world:


    The “All Butter Shortbread” does not show very much of the product, as shortbread is quite common. However, the pack design takes you straight into rural Ireland, i.e. this product is homemade which, for the consumer, means taste!


    Where else do you find such great anchovies and tuna fish? Not only does the design have the three basic colours, it takes you on a boat trip out to the sea! Not on a modern trawler, but on an old sailing boat. Wow, this is what package design is all about!

    France I

    Imagine a sunny Summer day with a temperature of 30° and you sit under a parasol, enjoying a nice meal. What else would you drink but a nice cool Rosé from Provence, specially from St. Tropez? Can design be done better?

    France II

    Do you know that the most sold chocolate bar in France is neither Lindt, nor Toblerone… it’s the Nestlé ‘cooking chocolate’ and what a design! Real story-telling!

    • a craft paper to communicate tradition;
    • few colours, two brown and a little orange to make it look non-industrial;
    • a quality seal “Selected Cocoa Beans”;
    • an explaining text about the “Cocoa Plan”;
    • last, but not least, the website!

    Congratulations, Nestlé!

    Sri Lanka

    If you think that Nestlé’s best products are Nespresso and S. Pellegrino, you don’t know the Singhalese Coconut Milk Powder which most chefs worldwide use to improve their dishes.

    Several years ago, I was down in Colombo to update the design. You know that most Maggi designs are quite boring! As you may see, they listened and here we have a design with:

    • strong branding;
    • clear denomination (with the word Real, as we here speak of a coconut and not of flavours);
    • a dish;
    • a coconut;
    • export quality (as with beers, where export is a keyword).

    I hope that these 5 selected designs have convinced the reader that if you wish to attract new consumers you have to tell a compelling story. Now it’s up to you!

    PS: Where did I get the title from? By reading the excellent book by Ed Catmull about the Pixar Success Story (Creativity, Inc.) where Ed says, as he is equally a Disney fan: “the success of Toy Story is not the sophisticated computer animated design… it is the story”. I think we have to believe him.

    June 2014

    Jul 09

    Where to put your product brand

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Uncategorized

    Good question! First of all, as often as possible and wherever possible. It’s called marketing! But seriously, let us start with the brand on the pack. Never on the back! On the front, it can be on top, in the middle or below. Unfortunately, most marketeers believe it has to be on top. For me, it has to be where it fits best in the hierarchy of information which can even mean vertically. Now and then you may even put it on another brand’s product. It’s called co-branding and can be powerful for a short period, a kind of promotional packaging.

    If we include the corporate brand in this analysis, where should it be? Obviously in close proximity to the product brand, below, within or above. It’s a matter of layout. Unfortunately, also here most marketeers believe it has to be above.

    Where else can our brand be put? Anwhere where it is visible. For this, you need high creativity and think outside the box. Unfortunately, we do not often see good solutions, lazy as we are… or just too traditional?

    To stimulate the reader, I will give two very different examples which prove that there are really no limits.

    The first is the Milka toaster in Germany. Imagine to succeed in getting your brand literally on the breakfast table as ‘a good friend’. Chapeau! as the French say.

    The second comes from Italy. When Ferrero celebrated 50 years of Nutella, they managed to get it on a stamp – not bad!

    I could enumerate other examples, but it would not help the reader much, as each case is unique. That’s what I call Marketing: to be unique and surprise!

    June 2014

    Jul 09

    My favourite European pack

    Posted by Packaging Sense in Design | Uncategorized

    Last week I gave a speech in Prague for designers, as well as brand managers. Before that, I did my usual store checking to be reminded of the pack I just love, the Kolonada round flat crispy spa wafers from 1856. The now Mondelez company has fortunately not changed this design, although there are rumours that they will. This often happens when there is a new owner and a new brand manager, just for the sake of changing…

    Here are the reasons why I love this design:

    1. It is 3D with basically three layers

    a) the product brand Kolonada;

    b) the product (with embossing!);

    c) the blue background;

    2. The hierarchy of information, i.e. first the yellow product (although quite white in reality) and then the product brand.

    3. The product illustration that shows the embossing, i.e. a structured surface which is so much more appetizing than a flat one.

    4. The remaining information which only new consumers need, i.e. corporate brand, product denomination, quality seal, tradition vignette and hazelnut flavour.

    5. Although much is said on the front, I do not feel the design is overloaded thanks to the correct hierarchy.

    6. As a product such as this one needs little explanation, there is no back panel, just two fronts, one in English for export and one local.

    Some designs like for instance S. Pellegrino have become so iconic that they basically cannot be improved. The Kolonada pack falls into this category. However, as the latest S. Pellegrino label shows, they can temporarily be slightly altered, as can be seen with the red Ducati band.

    June 2014

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