Emotional Branding: Does Your Packaging Have Heart?
By Scott Lucas
I was leafing through one of my wife’s favorite magazines at home recently and came across the following warning in a print ad, “You can go to extremes to protect your kids but still leave them unprotected.”
As an exercise for this article, I closed the magazine and thought about that one line without looking at the rest of the ad or the product it was promoting. I immediately focused on my baby daughter, Grace, and how carefully we researched and purchased—and painstakingly put together—her crib, stroller, car seat, all with the intention of protecting her. We “go to extremes” to protect her every day, especially now that she can crawl all over the house. But this line made me wonder,
“Have we missed something? Have we still left her unprotected? What have we overlooked?”
I re-opened the magazine and looked closer at the ad and realized it was not selling me the newest car seat or a safety-enhanced stroller. It was selling me Gatorade. Apparently childhood dehydration is a big problem these days.
Upon closer inspection I realized the ad pictured a 10-year-old kid and was not telling us to fill Gracie’s bottle with Lemon-Lime instead of formula, but the message still surprised me. I thought Gatorade was my brand, the brand that encouraged me to “Be like Mike,” to enhance my performance on Little League fields and backyard basketball courts. When did this beloved brand stop talking to me about performance and athletic achievement? Have they given up on me?
The answer is obviously no. Gatorade has simply found a new emotion to sell me: parental pride. The brand is still there for me when I need to sense athletic achievement (even if I now consider porch painting an athletic pursuit). But, Gatorade is also tapping into what is now my biggest priority in life: protecting Grace and giving her tools to stay safe—and hydrated—in the big bad world beyond our freshly white-washed picket fence.
All effective advertising is inherently emotional, and Gatorade is not the only player in the emotional branding game. Consumers are faced with thousands of marketing messages every day, promising to help them feel better, look younger, think smarter or live safer. Marketers in all product categories are working around the clock to build stronger, more personal and more relevant connections with all of us.
In this intensely competitive marketplace, brands cannot survive on functionality alone. If all body soaps are capable of cleaning well, the soap that cleans and moisturizes and makes you feel fresh and confident will build better, more profitable and longer lasting relationships with you and me.  
Now, emotional branding is not new. Nike has long stood for personal achievement and Volvo for safety. But what’s changed lately is the permeation of emotional marketing messages into nearly every category. It seems no product is immune. Bottled water has gotten smarter and tea has become honest. The VCR is obsolete now that I have TiVo, my personal television concierge and recording device in one. The dirty old mop in the corner has been replaced with a Swiffer, promising to revolutionize the way we clean as quickly as it wipes the dirt from our kitchen floors.
Typically, advertising offers the most direct opportunity for emotional branding messages. The same magazine that warned me about protecting baby Grace featured advertisements telling me “Today’s the day” (for Hormel bacon) and inspiring me to “Never follow” (in an Audi).
That’s because advertising offers enough real estate to come right out and say, “This brand will make you feel better or stronger or more beautiful than any other brand, so go ahead and buy it!” But the majority of purchase decisions are made at the retail shelf, without the help of a print ad or a TV spot playing in the background.
The question is how brand managers and package design professionals can make an emotional connection with consumers on a crowded store shelf with much less real estate, while the kids are hollering in the cart and the dog is barking in the car. The answer is simple and lies in five familiar tools: photography, language, typography, color and structure.
Men love to grill. Give us a good old-fashioned Weber, charcoal, lighter fluid, a bottle of great barbecue sauce and some ribs, and we’ll give you not just a meal, but a culinary creation (or so we think). We love the tools, the accessories, the smoke wafting through the neighborhood and the lines seared on the meat when we flip at just the right time.
Hunt’s tapped into that perfect summertime moment in a recent redesign of its BBQ Sauce packaging. The new label photography features juicy ribs cooking over a flaming grill while being brushed with thick, rich barbecue sauce. Emotions that come out of viewing the photo tell you the packaging is not just selling barbecue sauce, but a grilling experience that will culminate in a delicious meal and a memorable summer evening for your family.
Hunt’s brand competitors are using some food imagery on their packaging but, surprisingly, most are trying to communicate product benefits verbally, when, really, there’s no better way to say “thick, rich sauce” than to show it firsthand.
Convincing consumers to pay for water in a bottle was surprisingly simple. Now, marketers face a far tougher challenge: establishing brand loyalty in what has become a commoditized category driven by price wars.
For SmartWater, the advantage has always been the product itself: “smarter” water that purifies better and hydrates faster with the help of electrolytes. Consumers have also been compelled to pick up SmartWater single-serve bottles and read the witty, irreverent copy that speaks to the benefits of the product.
But, in grocery stores where consumers are bombarded with 12-packs and focused on prices, SmartWater needed to kick up the volume and scream the product benefits without compromising the style and tone of its single-serve voice. So the company recently introduced new shrink-wrapped six-packs that do just that.
Traditionally, shrink wraps for bottled water have been blue, green or white with a picture of the “supposed” source of the water. SmartWater takes a different approach. The brand’s two-sided orange and blue “billboards” feature witty headlines to convey the product’s attributes: better purification is communicated by the command “Remove your excess baggage”, while faster hydration is verbalized with the statement “Demand faster service”. The new packaging helps maintain the unique brand voice but also captures consumers’ attention in a crowded and competitive aisle.
A product recently caught my attention in a New York City grocery store as an excellent example of using type to establish a brand’s personality. It’s a brand of French preserves called Bonne Maman, packaged in authentic jelly jars with red-and-white checked lids that look like they came straight from a roadside farmers’ market.
The label is a simple, white sticker with the statement “Bonne Maman Blackberry Preserves” in what appears to be hand-written script. Looking at the type, I immediately pictured an older French woman carefully picking blackberries from her fields, patiently following her family’s recipe as she makes the preserves and hand-writes each sticker with her own unique script, the same way she addresses a letter to her friend back in Paris.
With a price point of $4.39 per jar, this product needed to transport me beyond the jelly section of the neighborhood food emporium and into the French countryside to communicate its superior quality, taste and to compel me to choose it over the brands I already know and trust. Typography made the difference in this case.
“No more tears” is a beautiful phrase. Those words have compelled parents around the world to trust Johnson & Johnson with their babies’ skin for generations. My wife and I have Johnson-brand baby products all over the house, and we felt 100 percent confident buying the brand when our daughter was born.
While J&J enjoys tremendous brand loyalty from parents like me who instinctively trust it, they still do a great job of using color to reinforce their commitment to keeping babies clean and comfortable.
The line of Johnson’s brand baby lotions and body washes is packaged in opaque white plastic bottles with smooth, soft edges, and labels printed in muted blues and purples that soothe your senses and conjure images of baby blankets and teddy bears. The measured use of color and the palette selected by the brand team reinforce Johnson’s reputation as a brand that wants to help you be a good parent. While effective at capturing your attention in other product categories, bright, artificial colors would destroy this promise.    
Americans like living large. We drive big cars, buy in bulk and eat much larger portions than the rest of the world. But with obesity on the rise, millions of us are struggling to cut back and eat much less. Portion control has helped a lot of people drop a lot of pounds, and Nabisco is making it easier to enjoy portion-controlled snacks with its new 100 Calorie Packs sub-brand.
The brand unifies Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Ritz and several other popular snack brands under a common umbrella. Through structure alone, the 100 Calorie Packs brand has a made a connection with consumers who know they need to eat better, but have a hard time cutting themselves off after just one or two cookies.
Packaging by calorie count has a way of saying, “We know you’re trying to eat well and make better choices. But, let’s face it; it’s hard to give up your favorite snacks. We found a way to help you!” Thanks, Nabisco. I needed that.
So, the good news is that the marketing opportunities are endless. Endless in terms of the emotions they can tap into, and in the categories that can leverage emotional branding. Marketers who traditionally haven’t tried connecting with consumers on an emotional level are starting to move away from touting functional benefits in a greater effort to compete. Just look to Microsoft’s “Realize your Potential” campaign as the beginning of a beautiful thing. BP
The author, Scott Lucas, is the managing director of packaging for Interbrand NY. He is a crusader in iPod’s digital music revolution and a proud owner of the ultimate driving machine, purchased from a complete stranger over eBay without a test drive. He can be reached at scott.lucas@interbrand.com.
How to Make an Emotional Connection through Package Design
With Photography: Use photography and illustrations to show consumers what role your product will play after they make a purchase. Whether it’s a picture of a finished meal on a box of rice or a smiling baby on a bottle of formula, the imagery you use should help consumers envision your product in their shopping cart, in their family life and in their home.
Language: Get to know your consumers—beyond the demographic data and sales statistics—and learn to speak their language in their own voice. Read the magazines they read, watch the shows they watch, and take every opportunity to interact with them face to face. Verbal on-pack communication can be very powerful, so long as it’s concise, direct and relevant to your audience.
Typography: Subtle differences in type style can distinguish modern from traditional, fun from medicinal, spicy from juicy, Asian from Mexican, cool from hot and more. Select a type style, size and color that deliver the right tone and give the correct level of emphasis to the different verbal components of your package. Let consumers tell you if they “get it” through qualitative research.
Color: Use color to draw consumers’ eyes to the most important information on your package and to establish the mood or feeling you want your product to create. A few generalities: red is perceived as stimulating, blue is soothing, yellow is attention-attracting, orange is friendly, green has come to symbolize health and environmental friendliness, pastels are gentle, navy blue is dependable and gray is typically professional or serious.
Structure: Consider package structures that make life easier for your audience by becoming an indispensable part of their daily routine. Ethnographic research is an invaluable tool for learning how consumers use your products in their daily lives. Is your closure easy enough for aging Baby Boomers to open? Is your bottle too heavy for kids to safely handle? Find out where your package ends up in shoppers’ homes and how it is used, and explore ways to make it better.
The Emotional Branding Quiz
Match the marketing message to the brand.
1) Add life. Mix well. A) Hyundai
2) Inspiration. Built right in. B) JC Penney’s Chris Madden home collection
3) Turning home into haven. C) Chrysler
4) Today’s the day. D) Rykä women’s athletic wear
5) You’ll feel great giving them to your kids. E) Hormel bacon
6) People first. F) Audi
7) Never follow. G) Propel Fitness Water
8) Inspiration comes standard. H) Nabisco KidSense Fun Packs
9) A style for every story. I) Saturn
10) Made for bodies in motion. J) Levi’s