What’s the secret to elevating a packaging to iconic status?

The concept of designing an iconic package, a package that, in its essence, becomes a signature part of the overall brand, has become something of a holy grail for brand managers and package designers these days.
The stories of their origins many times sound like beautiful accidents. It just happened that their design, not to mention the taste of the product inside them, hit a nerve with the public. That spark grew over time into loyalty, and even nostalgia.
Newer brands don’t have the luxury of age, but they do have plenty of data to show what works and what doesn’t in the overcrowded arena of the grocery store shelf. Still, there’s no flawless science to designing a package that will become a truly essential part of the brand.

campbells.jpg                  1. They’re simple
Iconic packages steer away from the ornate and opt for strong, simple shapes and graphics. “The really iconic packages, like Coke or Campbell’s, stand out for their distinctiveness and simplicity.” Says Andy Gutowski.

marlboro_red___lights.jpg          2. They use bold, basic colors
Packages that stand out in consumers’ minds tend to be ones that adopt a simple, contrasting color palette that doesn’t introduce too many accent colors or competing elements. That a consumer can recall without thinking twice that the Kraft macaroni and cheese box is blue and yellow, the Q-tips dispenser blue and white, the Tide bottle orange and yellow means the core colors work together successfully to trigger consumers’ memories.

festivus_icecream.jpg              3. They dare to be different
Package design is a tough balance. On one hand, a brand doesn’t want to stand out too much basic sameness in package design within a category is safe and puts competing products on the same level. But iconic packages are ones that “had the courage to step away from category cues,” says Rob Wallace, managing partner at Wallace Church, a New York-based brand identity and packaging design firm. With some slight but meaningful change, these packages gain an edge by becoming even more memorable and distinctive at the shelf.

kellogs0006.jpg          4. They know when to hold them and when to fold them

Recognizing when they have a sure thing on their hands, the brand managers have protected the package’s core design over the years, refusing to veer from their course in the face of fads and competition. They acknowledge when a light refresh or cleanup of the package architecture is necessary to keep a brand relevant and easy to shop, but they do the work to keep the emotional integrity of the iconic package intact. Deciding what and how much to change can be tricky, but in the end consumers must be left with the impression that they’re still buying their beloved product in its familiar old package, even if the package has been modernized and made more accessible.

385.jpg            5. They contain exceptional products
A package’s design can hit a home run, but if consumers don’t love and have emotional connections with the food or beverage inside it, the chemistry rarely works. “When you have a simple, distinctive package with a great product, you have a winner,” says Gutowski.


This post is based on the article Isn’t It Iconic? written by Stacey King Gordon for the Brand Packaging Magazine.