Mr. Eilken, what’s the significance of secondary packaging and what function does it have for the respective reference groups in your view as a packaging designer?
For manufacturers both primary and secondary packaging are brand platforms which guarantee shelf impact – this means they grab the attention of consumers at the point of sale, attracting them like moths to a light bulb. We speak here of the first moment of truth (see the box on moments of truth), the first of four situations in the brand experience. Think about duty-free stores, for example, where secondary packaging premiumizes products, a tool manufacturers use to accentuate the value of their goods. Transport packaging, on the other hand, has the job of providing convenience. For the retail trade packaging plays a big part in both clearance and secondary placement at the point of sale. For discounters goods usually have to be moved faster which is why the accent here is on shelf-ready packaging and trays which can also convey a message. In online trade packaging design still has little relevance but this will soon change. The challenges here are shipping convenience and the optimization of logistics through cooling packaging, for instance. A lot is bound to happen in this area. The consumer experiences the additional benefit of simpler handling through the packaging. The product may be excellent but if on the way home – in the second moment of truth – the carrying handle on a six-pack breaks, the consumer may never buy that product again. The packaging is of course also part of the brand experience. Just think of the unpacking experience: the joy of unpacking something such as a new Apple device.
What influence do packaging functionality and design have on the consumer’s decision to buy and price tolerance?
In the first and second moments of truth the packaging has to work. Consumers spend more on products which are attractively packaged. This even applies to me, although I deal with this topic every day and am naturally very familiar with the mechanisms of packaging. The consumer wants to transfer the image of a brand he or she prefers to him or herself. This is classic marketing.
“In packaging design ergonomics or practical use is always also a chief factor, as are procedures and rituals.”
What does this mean for the design of secondary packaging as far as shape and appearance are concerned?
A design which is suitable for the target group and category are prerequisites if the product is to be successful. I must know the target group and its codes. This means that with a certain age group I have to ask myself what their lifestyle’s like and what their interests and concerns are, for instance, so that I can develop a design based on this. Am I talking to older people, children or parents? Another approach is to look at the codes of the product category. For example, you’ll always expect to find water in a transparent bottle. Blue and green are also learned codes associated with water, for example in relation to the bottle closure. Other colors are usual in conjunction with flavored water. There are also the codes surrounding shape; an iced tea bottle, dairy bottle or bottle for a coffee beverage will always have a different silhouette to a water bottle. You’ll rarely find a milk product in a tall, extremely slim bottle. As a designer I either make use of these codes or I deliberately abandon them to make myself more interesting. Good examples of this are the tin cans used for hairstyling products or the turquoise bottle of a well-known brand of gin.
How must first and secondary packaging be matched to one another?
Ideally, they are inextricably linked to one another as part of an overall concept. The typography, graphics, color and refinements are also important; everything has to go hand in hand. This always works best when both are developed at the same time. Secondary packaging can take on communicative functions of the primary packaging if this is increasingly reduced, or lend the product that extra bit of originality. At the German Packaging Award we on the jury recently gave a prize to a six-pack basket which was deliberately made to look like a crate of beer with side handles. Nobody else had come up with this really rather obvious idea to date.
What do you consider to be the major parameters when designing secondary packaging? What principles are you guided by?
Besides codes, brand values and impact ergonomics or practical use is always a chief factor, as are procedures and rituals. How do you handle a six-pack of beer, for example? I don’t unpack the bottles. I put them in the fridge in their secondary packaging and remove them one by one. It’s important that we know exactly how a product is used before we design its packaging – and of course for this we need market research.
How do you go about designing a type of packaging? How does the process work from the initial briefing to the finished package – and how has this changed?
The actual design stage is preceded by a complex, strategic process. In order to specify my briefing I use design thinking and certain strategy tools where the uninitiated are involved in the brainstorming process. We analyze the brand and codes in workshops and strategy teams. The more stakeholders I include, the faster and more efficient the projects become in their implementation. The design process itself then requires a maximum of freedom to hit on an idea which has not just one version but several variants. We designers also have to guide our customers – here we speak of design leadership – as design isn’t a democratic process, even if in reality it sometimes turns out this way and you end up moving in a series of never-ending circles. However, some of our customers develop a certain awareness of design. In these cases design isn’t simply left up to the product manager; instead, design managers are established who support and guide the agencies.
Are there ways of measuring the quality of a packaging design?
First, we have to define quality. Are we talking about the quality of design or clearance? Many product brands demonstrate sound craftsmanship rather than an innovative design yet meet customer requirements and sell extremely well. Vice versa I’ve also heard of brand manufacturers whose products have won a design award but who have not been pleased about it as they then thought that as a consequence their product wouldn’t sell. Market researchers like to say that they can measure the quality of a packaging design. I doubt they can, however. We designers have a different understanding of design quality – sometimes it’s perhaps even a matter of taste. In the end you have to have courage to implement an innovative design. Many products now successfully established on the market wouldn’t have survived the verdict of the market researchers.
“Packaging must become more honest and build fewer castles in the air.”
The interview was conducted by KHS competence editor Stuart J. Nessbach.
How has secondary packaging changed over the past 20 years as a whole?
We’ve been observing a move towards premiumization for several years now. The beverage crate is now seen less as a means of transport but more as a marketing tool: a development which has taken a relatively long time. This reminds me of the Veltins brewery which has been meeting the growing demand for aesthetic product design since 2009 with crates developed by Porsche Design.
Which trends are you seeing at the moment in packaging design?
Packaging is still continuing to follow the big megatrends. Besides premiumization these are convenience, individualization and especially sustainability. Packaging must become more honest and build fewer castles in the air; the content will become more significant. In addition, the four moments of truth are becoming more and more important. Especially with a view to the zero moment – the situation where the consumer gathers information online – I have to think about how I can address the next generation who can only be reached through channels such as pop-up stores, social media like Snapchat or games.
What demands do these developments make of packaging technology?
Sustainability is increasingly being taken for granted and is less and less a case of mere greenwashing. This is beneficial to the manufacturer as ecological sustainability usually results in economical sustainability. The topic of smart packaging will gain in significance – that is, individualization and interaction when the packaging recognizes whether a man or a woman is looking at it, for instance. There are already a few nice little gimmicks around with QR codes and augmented reality but when printed electronics with organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) soon become destined for the masses, totally new ways of creating brand loyalty arise. Maybe we’ll also soon see useful applications with RFID (transmitter/receiver systems for wireless object localization) or other wireless technologies. 3D printing will undoubtedly also play a role. Besides rapid prototyping there’s now also rapid tooling where metal tools are no longer milled but printed with the help of SLS or selective laser sintering. And in the same way an Italian pasta manufacturer now prints its noodles for the hospitality trade, we might be printing packaging in the future.
Which branch of industry do you think is the leader in packaging development and what can the beverage industry learn from it in particular?
All told, I believe that it’s more individual brands than entire sectors which are taking on a pioneering role. Here, various smaller brands of smoothie spontaneously spring to mind, such as True Fruits or Innocent. And some countries or regions are ahead of others, among them Asia and here especially Japan. For us in Europe England has taken on this role; if I want inspiration myself, I simply go to a supermarket in London.
Is there such a thing as the perfect packaging for you – in the sense of an ultimate, outstanding story of success?
Each country has its own icons – whether it’s the Nivea tin in Germany or the Absolut bottle in Sweden which is also successful worldwide. Even if it seems pretty obvious, I’m personally most enthused by the shape of the Coke bottle as a global, unmistakable code for a soft drink.