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To Your Health: Leverage “Better-for-You” Consumer Desires with Package Design

Packaging can be powerful media through which to reinforce brand sustainability missions. Choosing recycled, recyclable or reusable materials is an obvious first step to emphasize and align sustainability messages. Backing those choices up with succinct sustainability claims, appropriate color palettes and organic shapes presents consumers with a unified, holistic brand proposition.

The percentage of consumers that self-identify as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) is growing, and the value in their sense of community is changing. Many of today’s consumers define themselves by their behaviors and their product and package choices. Brands can help these informed consumers align their actions with their beliefs.

On the LOHAS Journal website, you’ll find a summary of a study they conducted with the Natural Marketing Institute research firm that clearly shows a shifting consumer landscape: “Across both purchase behavior and lifestyle behaviors, consumers are increasingly more engaged…As individuals, they are choosing to switch to green products and to take more green actions.” Packaging as a marketing tool can appeal to these consumers by presenting them will clear value choices.

But there are branding risks in using a package to hammer home too many sustainability benefits that may fall on deaf ears. Designers that specialize in packaging and branding generally agree that the maximum number of verbal benefit “statements” the front panel of a package can have and still engage a shopper is four. And limiting them to three is often preferable. Any more than three or four and the consumer either tunes out the communication, gets distracted, or—worse—becomes frustrated.

These statements can be taglines, primary product benefits, secondary use occasions, appeals to health and wellness, etc. Making these statements succinct is critical to keeping shoppers engaged enough to want to learn more and turn the package around. The back panel is where there’s a broader opportunity to educate, inform and appeal to consumers’ higher, nobler motivations.

It’s important to remember that many LOHAS consumers come into the sustainability mindset and space through a concern for health. Not the health of the Earth, the environment or the water supply. Instead, they’re really looking out for No. 1—their own health. These consumers choose natural and organic products to improve their health, or the health of their children, by choosing better food, personal care products and home cleaning products.

One might see this renewed branding emphasis on “better for you” as ironic because the same strategy was used, one might argue, in a pervasive and extensive “anti-sustainability” campaign. Whereas the growth of the bottled water craze of the last 15 years was sparked by the convenience trend, it expanded dramatically when the bottled water stakeholders launched a “better-for-you” campaign that demonized tap water. Now the pendulum swing of that perception is swinging back.

To promote the health and safety of their family, LOHAS consumers ask of a product: Where did it come from? How is it made? Who made it? It has been a natural extension for them to ask the same questions of the packaging. The problem for many brands is that the sustainable messages that they want to convey are, to the consumer, abstractions. Carbon neutral goals, energy credits or renewable resources are all amorphous concepts that aren’t as immediate as the package in a consumer’s hand. That’s why it’s valuable to distill these concepts into a single, accessible sustainability claim that is stated simply on the front of your package.

The most effective package designs can convey a multitude of brand propositions, intuitively, in the blink of an eye. Graphics, colors and shapes often provide the quickest intuitive leap. As frustrating as might be for designers and branding professionals, greens and browns still provide the best “billboard” communication of natural and, by extension, sustainable.

A fine example of all the principles mentioned here is the original Pure & Natural soap packaging. The Pure & Natural brand launched in 2008 with a line of hypo-allergenic, natural and biodegradable personal care products and a high eco-consciousness.

The brand’s trademarked tagline leverages the “better-for-you” consumer trend perfectly: “Nurture Yourself and the World Around You.” The browns and greens of the packaging were appropriate for the holistic brand message, and only three benefit messages grace the front of the package.

Figure 1The back panel tells a more complete story about the product and packaging. The text on the back of the bar soap package explains the ingredient philosophy of the vegetable-based soap and that the boxes are “100# post consumer recycled packaging embedded with Baby’s Breath seeds.” It encourages you to plant the carton and nurture the plants to life.

As it turns out, Henkel is currently in the process of introducing a more colorful “New Look” for Pure & Natural, which abandons some of the original brand equities. While the logo remains the same and the packaging is still recyclable, the brown brand color has been made less prominent and the bar soap has been replaced with liquid body wash.


Ron Romanik is principal of Romanik Communications and former Editor-in-Chief of Package Design Magazine, which covers design, research and consumer behavior around brands, packaging, and retail. Romanik Communications was founded with a mantra of “Authentic Stories. Resonant Tones. Sustainable Brands.”… [Read more about Ron Romanik]


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