Mark Ringer on the future of packaging design

Recently Anheuser Busch announced that Budweiser beer would be sold in a new "bowtie"-shaped can. In doing so, Budweiser says that it is "bringing innovation to packaging". But is it?

With the new can made of nearly double the amount of aluminium as the usual can and containing less beer, Budweiser is clearly opting for aspirational branding while pouring function down the drain. But Budweiser is not alone.

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From functional to aspirational

FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands have been evolving their packaging design over the last 60 years, where it has moved from a purely functional activity, to being a highly aspirational branding platform.

The 'Ronseal' era of product and brand design since the '50s has dissipated. Extraneous imagery and design was a luxury that could not be afforded, yet also was largely not possible.

But it was also not technology that enforced this style. Rationing lasted into the 50s and only using what was needed was still a prevalent ideal, in the UK at least, thanks to WW2.

This naturally impacted on how retailers designed and packaged their products. The ability to print expertly crafted pictorial designs did not exist en masse during that time, so brands played on function to sell - the purest form of retail marketing.

Shelf-out marketing

The monumental shift from function to aspiration marks the most important change in packaging in the last 60 years because the selling power of shelf-out marketing was realised. Consumerism was blossoming into the post-'80s behemoth we have today, a situation where much packaging has moved from 'necessity' to 'accessory'.

Customers no longer bought food because they needed to eat it. They bought it because of how it made them feel and the status and lifestyle it conveyed upon them.

Function at heart

But I wonder whether brands have forgotten the need to bake in function at their packaging core.

Because we are now in a world where packaging is under the spotlight in making an impact on the environment and a deepening level of consumer power makes them susceptible to failure. Brands need to ensure aspiration for their packaging doesn't get in the way of doing the right thing by consumers and indeed, post-consumer.

Packaging design can't just be beautiful, it has to be functional too

Packaging design can't just be beautiful, it has to be functional too

Furthermore, function is still vital to consumer purchase decisions and function can be captured achingly beautifully in packaging. So unlike Budweiser, Grolsch last year launched new bottle caps for its reusable swing-cap bottles that are 17 per cent lighter and contain 19 per cent less steel.

In this way, Grolsch reduces its environmental impact while retaining its heritage. What’s more, the reusable bottles encourage recycling. They are desirable on shelf in the shop or on shelf in the kitchen. A telling example of how brands can maintain their identity, while keeping function at their heart.

Words: Mark Ringer

Mark Ringer is executive creative director of global creative agency Anthem, whose FMCG brand clients include the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, H.J. Heinz and Nestle.

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