From Bland to Grand: Packaging that Does More than Sport a New Look

01.15.13 / David Lemley

You’d think that when it comes to sports and outdoor merchandise, packaging would pack a punch. But we’re just not feeling it. Can’t even bear to look at the sea of wimpy, tired-looking packaging examples out there that trying to drown consumers with feature and benefit claims. So much packaging to refresh; so little time to get it done before the products they contain—and their brands—fail.

Rather than pointing to failures, we’d rather focus on packaging that’s gone from tired to inspired hoping that brand managers might reconsider their own packaged products and take them from bland to grand. Caveat: adopting the latest graphic design ideas and pretty imagery might give packaging a face-lift but as we all know, that’s only skin deep. Refreshing a packaging system is about more than proving one’s design chops.

The brand has to be at the core of new or refreshed packaging to be meaningful. To speak with an authentic voice. To clearly illustrate why it’s unique. To engage consumers and hold them in thrall. The right packaging has the power to do all of this. But first it has to appeal to customer emotions quickly and convincingly prompting purchase and loyalty. In the case of sports and outdoor gear, it’s crucial to capture the most emotive elements that tie the customer to the activities themselves via packaging. As marketing researcher Martin Lindstrom points out: aligning fans’ emotions about favorite sports and aligning them with sports-related products triggers the same response in the brain and cements their importance and desirability by association.

The universality of archetypes.

Brand implementation based in an archetype has great power. Archetypal brands have compelling stories that are universally or globally understood, memorable, and persuasive in their appeal to specific consumers who become emotionally invested in them. Storytelling is as old as mankind, yet there are only a small, finite number of universal themes, so it is crucial for brands to first identify themselves by archetype and then to weave a unique story within that framework. For example, there are a number of cult brands that are based on magician archetypes, but there is only one Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap; only one Disney.

They have unique stories based on their founders’ visions. Those visions grew as posthumous chapters were written that began to weave their founder’s unique point of view and history into brand’s new frontier. Even with new, invented landscapes Dr. Bronner’s and Disney magician archetypes success comes from being so single-minded that they are willing to ignore everyone for whom the brand’s core values and belief systems don’t resonate. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, they have built their brand by focusing on a small, but dedicated group who value what’s important to the brand, and who strongly believe that, through and with them, dreams do come true.

Lindstrom daringly declares that this has the same effect as religious imagery for fans. Preach on, Brother Lindstrom!

Revitalization comes in different forms: repackaging the blasé and ineffective that’s already out there; rethinking the utilitarian turning it into something more; reimagining the way the entire category is packaged for better functionality. When it comes to sports and outdoor activities having the right gear to achieve performance goals matters. So why doesn’t the packaging that’s selling the gear perform?

Case in point: LIV Organic

The USDA certified energy recovery drink for athletes had a good product. But its original packaging didn’t do anything to sell the product or brand. In fact, it worked against it. Since organic drinks don’t feature neon, artificial colors, they fade with light exposure. Even worse: a non-descript bottle structure and generic-looking labels did nothing to reinforce the brand, merely stating: “Organic Sports Drink” under the brand identity, followed by the flavor. A package refresh was needed.

LIV Organic’s original packaging might have passed for artifically flavored juice drinks.

We love the new packaging. Shrink-wrapped sleeves over PET bottles are color-coded to flavors while protecting the integrity of the product. The sleeve literally has sports written all over it. Action verbs like “pedal”, “score”, “pump”, “swat” and “rappel” tell the story at a glance. On the bottom of each label: “Re-fuel”. Enough said. Genius. The newly designed package structure is easy to hold and drink from, even in the midst of activities. Yeah! Now consumers see all the good stuff about this branded product at a glance—in a few seconds flat. That’s all the time brands have to make an impact on retail shelves, so how cool is this?

LIV Organic’s new packaging makes a promise that the recovery drink inside will get you back into the action.

Speaking of cool, who saves the packaging after purchasing new athletic shoes? What happens to shoe boxes? They end up in the recycling bin. PUMA reimagined the utilitarian with more sustainable packaging that would prompt reuse. Now its athletic shoes come in box bottoms that get tucked inside of a reusable “clever little bag”. Lidless is beautiful. So is the bag in brand signature red with white puma. This makes us wonder: why hasn’t this solution been thought of before? Every time consumers reuse the bag they’re walking ads for PUMA. Nobody sees the packaging until they buy the product but everybody sees it afterward. Think of the buzz this can generate. This works: love it.

Puma’s Clever Little Bag is a great example of packaging innovation that gives the container an afterlife.

Athletic and outdoor gear packaging brands ought to be champions of innovative packaging. After all, they’re all about innovating products, even the most basic, so why should packaging lag behind? Perfect example: what’s exciting about fishing line? Pretty mundane, huh? Not to Pure Fishing of Iowa. Its Berkley brand NanoFil fishing line is pretty innovative: minimum diameter, maximum strength, it was awarded top new product overall at ICAST 2012, the world’s largest trade show for sports fishermen. Now for the best part: innovative new packaging. A twist-off blister is caught between two paperboard halves with a flange. This allows fishermen to replenish line on a fishing reel and easily return the rest to the package for future use on additional reels. No impossible-to-open clamshells. The package is easy to open, stores the product and allows consumers to recycle each portion: paperboard and blister very easily. The graphics on pack separates the man from the boys, too. This is terrific translation of branding on the package.

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Berkley’s NanoFil follows the notion that form follows function.

Better functionality for basic, heavily purchased needed products? Yes!  Creating brand preference among consumers and turning them into fans? Yes! Rocking an entire category and taking ownership of it? Priceless.

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