The package, as social media

One image of social business design from Dachis Group

One image of social business design from Dachis Group

In the old days a package was expected to do little more than sit nicely on the shelf and smile. We didn’t require much more than that.

Even today there are rarely expectations of a package being anything other than a well designed yet passive object in the final event of a well-choreographed series of brand decisions by the marketer and consumer. At best an attractive wall flower waiting to be asked to dance. Things are about to change.

There was much talk about structural uniqueness, cohesive brand identity, product benefits, appetite appeal, ease of use, color-coding, etc. But fundamentally the role of the package was protect the product and promote the brand. How very analogue. That wallflower is about to bloom in the social media world.

David Armano has an interesting piece on one future for social media. In it he talks about social media being much more than a few more channels, like corporate blogging for our eyes and ears. He begins to hint at something he calls Social Business Design by saying,

“Imagine if a company like GM, was at the core “social”. Not just participating in “social media”—but through every part of their business ecosystem, were connected—plugged into a collective consciousness made up of ALL their constituents, from employees to consumers to dealers, to assembly line works etc. What if big organizations worked the way individuals now do. We’re actively using cloud services, mobile, networks and applications that offer real time dynamic signals vs. inefficient and static e-mail exchanges. In short, imagine if what makes “Web.2.0” revolutionary was applied to every facet of an organization transforming how we work, collaborate and communicate? We think this is possible. And we’re calling it “social business design“. In its purest form, it’s a shift in thinking—less about media and more about tapping the benefits of being a social business in a purposeful way”

Now imagine a package, or even a brand for that matter, that is at its core “social, and through every part of its brand identity”, is connected.

What would that package be like as part of a very wide community?

First, it would step away from the wall and become part of the conversation. This would start with its immediate family. It would be tied into a network consisting of the entire retail manufacturing, distribution and retailing system.

There are some early examples of this with packages that carry RFID tags that track its manufacture, location, and identity in the retail process. I think this is just a start of that kind of conversation, a first step with a plugged in package.

Bruce Nussbaum talks about being connected as just the first step in his response to Armano’s column, “David argues that it is not sufficient for companies to merely plug into and participate in the social media of its customers. Companies must BECOME social media and be organized as social media.”

Secondly, after a package is plugged in and is part of the conversation, I would also argue that a package must become social media. And this also has begun to happen. I have spoken about some of this in earlier blogs, the Stone Buhr flour package that connects you to the farmer who grew the wheat, or a web site where consumers can see and connect to banana farmers in Central America.

These are very early signs of the package becoming social media, and perhaps just tentative first steps for the package design industry, but we have been standing at the wall for a long time. Lets work together to help our clients, brands, and packages BECOME social media, not just plug in to the conversation.


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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