Premium Packaging with a Conscience

 
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As designers we are often briefed to make a brand’s packaging look and feel premium, but what exactly is premium and is it changing in the eyes of today's consumer?

To me a brand or product is premium when a consumer perceives it has value, i.e. when consumers believe it to be worth paying more for. So, for designers to be able to craft packaging which looks and feels premium, we need to understand the things that consumers value above anything else. Sounds simple right!

Premium =
superior quality and a higher price

Traditionally when we think about a premium brand, we consider how design can communicate product qualities such as superior craftsmanship, expensive ingredients, uniqueness and scarcity. Qualities which, when combined with a great product, can make it the premium market choice. They reflect consumer values of status, discernment and achievement. Through design we are looking for short cuts to these deeper stories of the product inside - the use of gold to signify preciousness and rarity, for example.  

This focus on justifying price has led to a premium packaging aesthetic which frequently relies upon special finishes such as metallic foil blocking, special inks and varnishes and multi-layered packaging. When done well they can look stunning, but when overdone, or disingenuous (wrapped around a less than premium product) they lose their lustre.

But is this packaging bling still the language of premium today? 

New Premium =
good for me and good for society

Increasingly consumers want to feel that their brands align with a different set of personal values. These values resonate far deeper than status alone and are increasingly more democratic than hierarchical. Indeed, according to a recent global research study by Accenture*, 52% of respondents would be attracted to a brand that ‘stands for something bigger than just the products and services it sells, which aligns with my personal values’.

Consumers still care about the traditional qualities we associate with premium brands. However, they now also care about how a brand answers questions like: Is it recyclable? Is it cruelty free? Where does it come from? Is your supply chain ethical? How does it benefit society? 

It is these values that are becoming central to what it means to be a premium brand. Here are a few thoughts on what designers and brands will need to consider when creating the new premium brands of the future.

1. Tell stories, authentically

Packaging is an amazing medium for storytelling. It has the potential to provide the consumer with the most instant and immediate connection with a brand’s story when the product is in their hands. Instead of an over-reliance on design polish with special tricks to convince a consumer of premium value, we should trust in authenticity and use material constraints to our advantage. Tapped Pure Birch Water is a great example of this – a clever but very simple design has captured the very essence of the product story.

2. Tempt with new sustainable materials

Progress has been made but still premium brands are hesitant to commit to sustainable packaging. Partially this is because the aesthetic that it creates doesn't convey the traditional premium bling of their competitors. This shouldn’t be an excuse to stop progress; it is the designer’s job to present these new materials in a compelling way. Take for example how Veuve Clicquot has elevated pulp packaging to an elegant and refined form.

3. Do more with less

Multi-layered packaging can create a sense of ritual opening and anticipation but is increasingly being seen as inappropriately excessive, particularly with products like Easter eggs. An alternative approach is the simple, elegant honesty of a pack design that shows off a premium product to dramatic effect - take the award winning Aya Codama sake box for example.

To conclude, as designers we need to return to our elemental toolkit – shape, colour, texture, balance and materials and be more adventurous with our thinking and willing to accept the challenge that is thrown to us to surprise, delight and intrigue, but also to tell compelling stories of origin and make emphatic statements of worthy intent.

* From Here to Affinity, Accenture 2018