With the recent barrage of movie/TV awards programming, we’re once again reminded that all publicity—good or bad—can work in Hollywood. In today’s world of personal care and household products, however, the kind of performance a product delivers will “brand” it indelibly in the collective consciousness of consumers…and no one is handing out Oscars for most inconsistent product performance or least stable packaging color.
Yet, after investing vast sums of time and money to develop and market a product, some brand owners fail to guard their costly brand image with one further investment—an insurance policy that will protect and maintain the integrity of the brand image so that the huge initial investments are justified with positive image recognition, product longevity and sales goals met or exceeded.
See, touch, take a whiff…and buy!
A shopping trip brings all of our senses into play. As consumers, we like to touch, smell, squeeze and experience products before we buy. A creative use of color can grab our attention, differentiate products and positively influence our perception.
The color then tells us what to expect, conveying subtle information about the product and brand. A whiff of lemon in a cheery yellow product, combined with a sunny yellow container, can suggest a pleasant, fragrant and effective cleansing experience. A minty-smelling green product in a similar color package conjures images of icy, tingling freshness. In the personal care market, fragrance and feel are critical. Consumers will remember the color, texture and scent of a cucumber-papaya lotion they enjoyed and buy it again.
The creative combination of color, fragrance and texture become an integral part of a product’s brand image. Consequently, protecting the integrity of that image is critical to the long-term acceptance or rejection of a product. This image protection makes some very specific demands, one of which is selecting and maintaining the “right” color for packaging and product. With so many different color chemistries to choose from, and potential incompatibilities and interactions among color, fragrance and formulations, this isn’t as simple as it sounds.
One of today’s most significant “color” trends in packaging is, paradoxically, a growing interest in transparency. To capture consumer attention in an increasingly crowded marketplace, marketers are relying on transparency as well as broader color palettes to do the trick. The benefits are obvious: consumers get to see the product before they buy, and the color/texture of the product itself can be formulated—with bubbles, mica reflectors, etc.—to suggest desirable qualities and thus become additional selling tools. However, these advantages come with challenges, and both clear packaging and expanded opaque palettes bring with them a whole new set of stabilization issues.
While transparent packaging allows consumers to view the goods, and marketers to come up with unique shapes and visuals, it also exposes the product to constant light—on the store shelf, at an outdoor market, in the home—that can fade, degrade and deteriorate. Opaque color containers are also susceptible.
UV light and heat will cause an unprotected yellow container or cleaning fluid contents to turn brown and possibly rancid, sending negative signals to the consumer. Does anyone really care to clean their kitchen with a brownish liquid that smells bad? Clearly the consumer would not be getting the same product developed by the manufacturer, or the performance promised on the label—there goes the credibility of the brand.
Where does brand protection begin?
UV rays are about as friendly to products and containers as they are to our own skin. The main culprit appears to be the UVA and UVB range of the light spectrum which causes a process, known as auto-oxidation, to kick in, and wreak its own brand of havoc. Problems include faded colors and color shifts (from blue to green, for example), changes in viscosity and texture, bad taste and spoilage (for food/beverage products), rancid contents that turn lumpy or runny and unpleasant odors.
So where does the responsibility for image protection lie? Let’s say that marketing has just developed the foundation of a new product: visuals, texture, odor, taste and, of course, what it’s supposed to do. Formulators must then develop a product possessing the specified qualities.
Unfortunately the marketers and formulators may experience a disconnect at this point. Formulators may find it difficult to achieve what marketers have conceived of while still delivering a product with the required performance. A specific feature (i.e., unique color) may only be possible at the expense of another, such as protection from color deterioration. Other features may undercut the ability of a fragrance to last for the nine average months of shelf life. Transparency may be desirable for visual impact, but will allow more UV light in to spoil the contents and alter the fragrance. Obviously, brand image protection must be a joint consideration for both marketing and development, with both teams reviewing specifications to determine what is possible and what might jeopardize other product features.
Fortunately, new tools exist today that allow formulators to address color fade, product degradation and other problems associated with issues such as exposure to ultraviolet light, shelf life and more. In essence, these tools act as an insurance policy that protects the huge investment made in creating a brand image. Today’s knowledgeable formulators employ antioxidants, quenchers and stabilizers known as Ultra Violet Absorbers (UVAs) to imbue a product with the ability to protect itself—and the brand’s integrity—from UV rays while maintaining the color, scent, texture and performance that will keep consumers coming back for more.
How does it work?
Exposure to light and/or heat leads to the formation of “radicals” (similar to the radicals formed in our skin that break down the collagen and other bonds, causing an aged look). These can cause degradation of the packaging and/or contents. As you can imagine, clear packaging accelerates this process.
Tools that protect include:The “Sunscreen”—The first line of defense is to protect products and packaging from UV light the way we protect our skin from the sun’s rays. Broadband UV light stabilizers are essentially sunscreens for containers and contents. They effectively absorb the UVA and UVB rays before they can cause deterioration.
The“Pac Man”—Antioxidants stop the light-induced “auto-oxidation” process, gobbling up the destructive radicals.
The “Sedative”—The use of quenchers is another way to avoid light-induced decomposition from “excited molecules” in the colorant used.
In the package, or in the product?
Where you add UV light stabilizers is obvious in some cases—when packaging food or beverages, the only option may be to add the protective stabilizers to the package. In other cases, it depends on many variables, including the “difficulty” level of the color used and the severity of the application. For example, selecting a difficult light pink color may require protection for both package and product. This may also apply to clear packaging; transparency sets the stage for increased degradation of both container and contents. Other applications (strong, opaque color containers, etc.) may only need UVAs and antioxidants added to either the package or the product for ample protection.
Benchmarking color for global uniformity
The importance of global uniformity of product color cannot be overstated. Quality and performance must be consistently excellent to protect and nurture your brand. Meeting specifications and regulations rests, not only on light management with stabilizers, but also on color management.
Software exists that allows exact color matches to be made faster, and with fewer corrections using built-in, customizable color databases. This type of tool delivers product color uniformity wherever the product is sold. Once a colorant is defined and standardized for Internet retrieval, instant feedback is available on product susceptibility, so there’s no second-guessing when a brand’s color is prepared, either domestically or halfway across the globe.
Cost versus reward
Differentiating your product to entice more consumers to buy it may add to the cost of development and marketing. Unique color palettes can be very attractive, and can help a brand stand out from the crowd.
Everyone wants to reduce costs but investing more in tactics like these makes sense. What doesn’t compute is a failure to protect your investment and brand with a few simple tools that are “clearly” up to the challenge. BP
Joseph Lupia is Business Head, Colors and Stabilizers; Joseph Agocs is NAFTA Market Development Manager, Packaging; and Randy Snavely is Manager, Color Services, at Ciba Specialty Chemicals. Call 914.785.2304 or visit www.cibasc.com.
I want to hear from you. Tell me how we can improve.
In our October issue, the PACK EXPO Connects preview will whet your appetite for its new virtual format, applying IIoT technology and analytics, cold cereal trends, marketing as a tool for packaging, exploring tomorrow’s packaging and more.