Nobody Reads A Concept: Packaging Must Sell Your Idea!

Ever wonder why so many new products fail after so much effort getting the concept exactly right, and pairing it with a great product?  While some failures can be traced to missed consumer concerns or business plan flaws, many simply result from poor marketing execution, such as failing to effectively communicate the concept.  It does not matter how good a concept is if the consumer never gets it; nobody reads a concept before making a purchase decision! 

Having tested more than 40,000 concepts and positionings globally, ACUPOLL has participated in many successful product introductions, but also has seen some good ideas fail.  Concept testing in its present form was developed when TV advertising represented the primary marketing vehicle and most ads were 30 seconds long.  Today, many brands can’t afford mass advertising, and even those that can are likely to have much of their spending (if not 100%) in 15-second spots and/or directed at the trade or in-store.  
“Owned” media (e.g. website) and “earned” media are important aids, but these don’t reach everyone either.

So, that leaves packaging as the most visible representation of your marketing idea to the consumer.

Beyond typical functional needs, we believe packaging should also deliver three key objectives:

  1. Motivation: Communicate the core concept – especially the Insight, key benefit(s), and key support – in an appealing way that connects both rationally and emotionally

  2. Shelf Impact: Break through clutter and grab attention, particularly by disrupting consumers’ preconceived mental maps of the category, or “schemas,” in an appropriate way

  3. On-Equity: Ensure products, especially extensions, fit into the line architecture and enhance the brand, building a stronger “whole” over time

Effective packaging also has a clear hierarchy of communication to address versions, flavors, forms, and/or sizes.  Package back and side copy also needs to cover important regulatory information, as well as answer key questions, particularly shopper “de-selection criteria,” which, left unaddressed, can cost you a sale.


As noted earlier, nobody reads a concept … and all but the most heavy TV advertisers are likely to have a considerable portion of their purchasers discover the brand for the first time at shelf.  So in many cases, the packaging has to “make the sale.”  A key question is, if the only communication your consumer gets is the front of the package, what benefits and points of difference would be most likely to entice consumers?  And, what visuals communicate those benefits or advantages best? 

We test packaging using the same measures as concept tests to ensure you deliver your core message.  It’s important to recognize the limitations to package verbiage: the more you add, the less you’ll communicate.  So ask us about tools like ACUTEXT™ and efficacy statements to determine which elements of your concepts communicate most effectively, or to add questions to screen alternative package flags.  In some cases, if you’re not able to fund advertising, it may even be more helpful and realistic to test “packcepts” instead of concepts.

And, similar to advertising, packaging should communicate not only rationally, but emotionally as well.  Our proprietary eFactor® technique (“Unarticulated Emotional Elicitation”) can help you understand the various emotional factors, sub-factors, and factor intensity triggered by your packaging options.

Shelf Impact

According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the average grocery store carries 42,686 items – how will yours get noticed?  While you could add a picture of a puppy or a baby to attract attention, the key to shelf impact is to attract attention in a tasteful and appropriate way.  Consumers must not only notice the package, but want to pick it up to learn more.  This is especially true for new product success at the “first moment of truth.”  Thus, we measure distinctiveness in context of other key measures to ensure it is really a positive.

One way to increase shelf impact is to design-in “schema disruption.”  Categories often evolve to reflect a specific visual nomenclature – e.g., hand and body lotions come in bottles with or without pumps – which cause consumers to form mental models, or schemas, of what to expect in category packaging.  Define all of the existing category schemas and then make careful choices on how to disrupt them by deviating from the norm (in a positive/appropriate way).  In hair color, virtually all of the packages have beautiful 4-color models; try 2-color photos.  We’ve seen a good example in food products: the addition of a unique oak table under a dish with the “food shot” added a rustic, homey feel.  You can’t expect good shelf impact if you use the same package construction, form, colors, benefit visuals, etc., as all of the competitive products! 


Finally, it’s important for line extensions and flankers to do more than just “fit” with a parent brand’s equity.  Every new product starts out as an “Equity Borrower,” in that it borrows the parent brand’s equity to create interest in the extension.  However, some initiatives are me-too “Equity Robbers,” failing to deliver core brand benefits or without offering desirable and unique benefits to build the franchise.  In contrast, designed right, the packaging and marketing communication for good initiatives can supplement parent brand equities to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, becoming “Equity Builders” that grow overall brand equity.


So, what are the lessons?  

  • For the many consumers you don’t reach with TV advertising, your packaging is your concept.

  • Make sure you deliver shelf impact to get noticed; try defining and disrupting category design schemas to do so.

  • Communicate your message via packaging rationally and emotionally; test your package to make sure it delivers.

  • Include experienced packaging professionals early in the process to help deliver differentiation, functionality, and, yes, budget requirements.

  • Finally, ensure you choose a packaging option that will completely support your introduction – because nobody reads a concept before buying.