The Package is Not a Chameleon

Imagine a package that changes its stripes, like a chameleon, adjusting its look to the whims of each consumer that walks by the shelf. Perhaps we are not as far from this as you might think.

Picture this, you are walking down a supermarket aisle and your iPhone, or any other smart phone, is offering information, coupons, and other specials  .  .  .  just for you. The person right next to you in the aisle is getting a completely different coupon. Apparently this technology is very close to going live.

heinzI came across two pieces this week that pointed to fascinating developments for retailers, marketers, and even consumers at the point of sale. The first suggested marketers should target very small groups of consumers with their messages, not the large-scale messages that so many have perfected for the “global economy”. The second suggested a mechanism for doing this. 

In the first piece Bruce Nussbaum, in a very interesting article on his Business Week blog, NussbaumOnDesign, talks about attending a class given by David Armano, VP of Experience Design at Critical Mass, where he identified a divergence in the way students use Facebook and twitter at Parsons School of Design. The juniors used Facebook very differently than the seniors, he calls this micro-cultures.   

From this experience Nussbaum speculates that companies should consider fragmenting their brands according to micro-cultures. He wondered if “those brands that sell across demographics, such as razors or cleaning materials, need to target their messages differently to different micro-cultures”.

The second piece, a cover story in The New York Times, suggests the technology that might allow this to happen on a pretty micro scale, down to the level of a supermarket aisle, is already in development with a program called AisleCaster. I won’t get close to the ethical issues involved, but this article covers in detail the ability that marketers now have to target messages based on cell phone usage.

The implications are fascinating. Lets assume that someday, fairly soon, the technology will exist to change the look of a package on shelf for each individual consumer as they wander down the aisle. Like a chameleon that changes its stripes. The question remains, what is the role of a package, and should it change to fit every consumer that walks by?

For now, I say it should not. A package represents the essence of brand meaning, and as a result should reflect a consistent look as everything else morphs around it.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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2 Responses to The Package is Not a Chameleon

  1. Makes me think of “Minority Report”, as T Cruise dashes through the mall, the walls are calling to him. In real life, though, it seems too noisy–look at the visual clutter of your Trix example (2/26/09). It is taxing to scan through an ever-changing landscape, and if every product shifted just for me, how do I find the ketchup I love? I agree that static is the better choice. There is a benefit to being found, consistently, on the shelf. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Georgina, I agree. Call me old fashioned but I think, especially today given the uncertainties we all are dealing with, that the package should continue to represent the essence of the brand. It is typically the single visual icon used in all other forms of communication. It should change only if the brand proposition changes.

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