Characters on packaging help to personalize products. But make sure the facial expressions support your brand image and promise.
By DAN HILL
Once upon a time, salesclerks in general stores sold unbranded commodities. The face of the product was, in effect, the face of the clerk with whom consumers did business. Consumers bought into the product both emotionally and literally to the extent that they liked and trusted the “look” of the person behind the counter.
Today, the package must have its own “personality” to sell itself. Facial characters on packaging add to the personality of the brand. But does the facial expression project an image consistent with the brand promise?
Some brands do it better than others.
Take Mr. Pringles, for example. When Procter & Gamble updated this icon of the potato chip world last year, the goal was to give the character a more contemporary look. In doing so, however, Mr. Pringles was still supposed to project fun.
Is that a smiling face behind the bushy moustache of Mr. Pringles? Perhaps, if the moustache moves up at the corners or if the moustache itself is seen as the uplifted mouth corners of a broad social smile.
A smile equals fun, simple enough. But the wide-eyed Mr. Pringles also simultaneously suggests the emotional territory of fear and surprise, hardly the fun intended in the design makeover.
Since we humans seek to avoid danger, the fear suggested in the eyes needs to be more like the surprise seen in other food packaging and also be offset by a more reassuring and certain smile.
Here are two steps to achieve this appearance:
1.Lowering the pupils and making the eyes less confrontational and warmer.
2.“Lightening” the moustache allows the smile to show through more clearly, and drawing in the cheeks to establish that they are uplifted in the style of a traditional broad social smile.
The opposite of a slightly fuddy-duddy, frightened Mr. Pringles is the Brawny paper towel man. With a genuine beam reflected both in a smile and the crow’s feet that bring a twinkle to the eye, he exudes confidence that the product works as advertised.
Another visual element here is his body type, which communicates strength and endurance. The combination of those physical attributes with the emotional attribute of confidence and reassurance is very germane to the brand’s promise.
Among the female icons, the Olay woman embodies both the concept of traditional female beauty and the product’s promise. Her eyes are closed, and her face is perfectly neutral: a blank. Meanwhile, the lines of the drawing are black on the Olay Regenerist product to project a simple elegance.
This high-status, blank slate facilitates the sale because the purchaser can project herself into the Olay Regenerist’s privileged role.
Also, the drawing is not detailed intentionally. She is age-neutral, and could be young or somewhat older. This age “vagueness” broadens the audience appeal.
Indicative of a new female prototype is the young woman on the Jalapeno Wasabi hot sauce bottle. She shows it all—disgust, anger, fear and even a slight smile mixed in. Clearly, this lively mix of emotions fits the product’s promise to make your own emotions come vividly alive.
Moreover, she is a sign of the less demure, more risk-oriented woman that we have come to know as a cultural icon through women’s soccer, the Williams sisters in tennis and celebrities from Madonna to Angelina Jolie.
Just like the extreme sports athletes and the outlandish Hollywood stars, who are no longer harmed but, in fact, seemingly aided by at least the hint of scandal, the Jalapeno woman stands as the embodiment of being “out there” in order to, as Madonna sings, “express yourself.”
Beers with character
The difference between men and women is, in fairy tale language, sometimes thought of as beauty and the beast. When it comes to beer, lets compare the gender of two brands that seek to establish the unique “character” of their beer.
Sam Adams proves to be an original in that his full, genuine smile has the added element of a trace of anger around the lips. Meanwhile, the St. Pauli girl manages only a social smile to accompany the hint of sadness in the grooves between her upper lip and nose.
Sam Adams suggests the taste of the product, which is strong and full-bodied. His stance is another signal. It’s challenging and aggressive, thereby invoking the male desire for dominance in accordance with the anger he reveals.
By comparison, the St. Pauli girl symbolizes the social aspect of drinking because men make up the great majority of beer drinkers. A female on the label creates an appeal beyond males. In accordance with this strategy, her demeanor isn’t overly seductive.
Simultaneously, her presence provides reassurance and helps to remove risk because the female face is non-threatening and non-challenging.
Moving beyond specific examples, here are five design criteria for facial expressions on packaging.
5 points to ponder
1.Pay close attention to the size of the face on your package. The face should be part of the overall packaging design and establish the product’s humanity more forcefully. Avoid cameos or sidebar elements. The exception to this is celebrity images because they carry other traits established by the celebrity’s fame.
2.The angles or positioning of the face is another important element. The face needs to be frontal to be inviting to the purchaser, making full eye contact. Therefore, an inward or indirect gaze isn’t likely to make as much emotional impact.
You should seek to reduce the distance between the package and the purchaser in order to increase the likelihood of interaction. Indirection goes against that aim. A full-frontal, genuine smile reassures and invites personal contact.
3.A third factor is the juxtaposition of the face with text or other art elements, including the location of the face on the package. The face should be placed in the top quadrant of the label. This placement enhances “readability” and allows the consumer’s eye to move naturally from the face to the brand name and other graphic elements.
4.Since we relate so strongly, subconsciously, to the face, you must guard against the facial image overpowering the product.
The second danger is cultural bias. In our highly diverse world, a face establishes a quick connection but can be offensive in some cultures. In Oriental culture, for instance, one doesn’t typically want to be too “front and center,” showing, in effect, too much face.
5.Creating a character can be a daunting challenge. It has to be memorable without offending. It can’t dominate the product. It requires great simplicity.
Consumers scan a package for a fraction of a second, so there is little room for subtlety. The face should provide a sense of familiarity to catch the consumer’s emotional wavelength.
Focus on eye contact and matching the tonality of the character with the essence of your brand. Your character must be both simple and relevant to the audience, establishing a sensory connection.
Furthermore, the facial appearance must provide hopeful and positive reinforcement of the brand promise. It should strengthen the product’s “believability” to reassure the purchaser. BP
The author, Dan Hill, is President of Sensory Logic, an identity management consulting firm that uses facial coding and other sensory research to gauge consumer perceptions. Contact Dan at 651.224.7647 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What is facial coding?
Facial coding originated with Charles Darwin, who realized that our faces reflect and communicate our emotions whether we know it. Darwin’s research led him to understand the universal nature of facial expressions, so universal in fact that even a person born blind has the same facial expressions as you or I.
In the 20th century, additional laboratory research by Paul Ekman at the University of California, San Francisco led to analysis that isolated seven core emotions and the 43 muscles that, in different patterns, reveal those emotions.
These emotions are happiness (social and genuine smiles), anger, fear, sadness, surprise, disgust and contempt. Typically, an expression will last no more than three seconds, with a micro-expression lasting even briefer.
Sensory Logic uses this facial coding method and other sensory research to gauge consumers’ reactions to brands, advertising and marketing-related programs.
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In this issue of Packaging Strategies you will find “The Latest Packaging Innovations Changing the Rules,” “The Future of Cannabis Packaging” and “OEE and a Multi-Metric Approach,” along with articles on beauty and alcohol social media influencers, batch vs. continuous and aseptic sterilization, challenger brands bridging ecommerce and retail, and a popular Michigan brewing company who has what it takes to tap into the community.