Layered luxury

Package design is reaching new heights as luxury product makers recognize the important role it plays in reinforcing brand values and ensuring consumer loyalty.

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THIS CONTENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN INSPIRE ISSUE 45 FROM 2013 

One goal of package design is to grab consumers’ attention on retail shelves crammed with an overwhelming variety of brands. This is why it’s so important to create “stopping power and a meaningful connection, whether through messaging or imagery”, says Jonathan Asher, executive vice president of Perception Research Services International. “Unseen is unsold,” he points out.

Yet when it comes to luxury items, package design goes well beyond catching consumer attention on the shelf. People buy luxury products based on brand recognition, materials, aesthetics, the quality of finishes and textures, functionality and the overall consumer experience. Paying attention to these details in the package is equally important.

Evelio Mattos, creative director of Design Packaging Inc, believes that for true luxury products, packaging’s greatest impact is away from the shelf.

“For luxury products, packaging’s major role is reinforcing the brand through the unveiling process, where you can build suspense culminating in an ‘aha’ moment. Once the consumer leaves the tailored in-store experience, it is the packaging design’s ability to guide them through this final interaction that resonates with them.”

This, says Mattos, is the “final branded touch” where each detail in the packaging reinforces the brand. If done properly, he says, it should include a high-quality box, perhaps fragrance-embedded boards or tissue, a topper or branded board that covers and protects the product, a delicate tissue layer sealed with a wax seal or label, and perhaps a soft ribbon or other small touches that contribute to the layers of packaging mystery.

“It is always quality in materials, design and manufacturing that creates a specific luxury brand experience. Poor material selection, weak construction and improperly fitting components tend to leave consumers underwhelmed or cheated of their expectations.”

Materials play a critical role in luxury packaging. According to a Smithers Pira report, The Future of Luxury Packaging to 2015, paperboard is the most widely used material for the manufacture of luxury packaging, accounting for a nearly 63 percent share of luxury packaging market value in 2010.

“Coated paperboards tend to dominate today,” says Graham Moore, a senior consultant at Smithers Pira, the worldwide authority on the packaging, paper and print industry supply chains. Regardless of the paperboard used, it should convey the message of luxury by being sturdy enough to hold the contents without bowing, creasing or tearing easily. 

Consumers in some countries, such as South Korea and China, want glossy finishes on their luxury packaging, while Europeans mostly go for a matt finish, Moore says. “Packaging trends tend to follow fashion, especially in terms of colours,” he says. “Currently, gold and silver are popular, with supporting colours like red and emerald green.”

Foils are also big. “We are seeing a lot of metallic foils with colour overlays for a 3d effect creating layers and adding depth to the packaging visuals,” Mattos says.

Whiteness is also critical in luxury packaging, and print quality has to be impeccable. “Any flaws in printing diminish the brand at the luxury level,” Mattos says. 

“Consumers at the extreme low end disregard imperfections, but they are an unacceptable part of the experience at the high end.”

Luxury packaging should also be wipeable and easy to clean if fingerprints or dirt get on it. A dirty package quickly loses its high-end appeal. This is one reason why lamination and varnishes have been a consistent trend in luxury packaging boxes and shopping bags, Mattos says. “There is a lot of lamination in cosmetics as they are handled so much. Uncoated paper or custom-embossed paper needs to be wrapped with cellophane, which is unfortunate because if you have beautiful paper behind plastic you lose that special quality.”

According to the Smithers Pira report, sustainability is a key trend in luxury packaging, with paperboard, seen as an environmentally sound material, finding growing applications in this area. Board and carton producers are increasingly securing FSC and PEFC certifications, yet Moore adds that this varies regionally and he questions who is driving the sustainability issues. “For example, many retailers may ask for FSC or other certifi­­cation, but many consumers have no idea what it actually means.”

Jonathan Asher believes that sustainable packaging receives more lip service than actual behavioural changes. “Generally speaking, people tend to cut more slack to luxury packaging,” he says. “They expect their perfume to come in a luxurious-looking package that requires multiple layers, whereas it’s okay to have refillable containers for household goods.” But he does believe that sustainability issues will become bigger in the future as the younger generation gains purchasing power.

Online shopping has done little to reduce the need for multiple layers of luxurious packaging. David Mattin, lead analyst at Trendwatching.com, says consumers bring their high expectations to every part of the online experience. 

“Packaging will be the first physical interaction that the consumer has with the brand they have purchased, from the moment the parcel arrives at the door,” he says. “You could argue that in these circumstances, e-commerce has made packaging more important than ever.”

Evelio Mattos warns that some luxury brands are falling behind in e-commerce by focusing entirely on the purchasing process in this forum. “Your wonderful online experience is so far removed from the day you receive the parcel that your brand experience critically hinges on your final packaging interaction,” he says. “If it feels like your product was carelessly packed in a warehouse instead of in a carefully crafted package that makes you feel special to the brand, when you receive your credit card statement you’ll think, ‘I paid that for this?’”

Looking to the near future, Mattos sees technology entering the luxury packaging space in a big way, with new materials and new technical applications and solutions, Near Field Communication (NFC) embedded in paperboard and 3d printing. “I feel that 3d printing will have an impact on luxury packaging,” he says. “It would be great for low-quantity, very exclusive product packages with a quick turnaround time.”

Read more on NFC in issue 41 and 42 and 3D printing in issue 43.

TEXT: CARI SIMMONS ILLUSTRATION: OLAF HAJEK

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