FOURTH IN FORCEpkg’S MR. REALITY CHECK SERIES
GO MINIMALISM . . .
HOLD ON A MINUTE!
BY TOM NEWMASTER, Partner, FORCEpkg
P: (610) 823-9813 | W: FORCEpkg.com
I did an experiment. My agency, FORCEpkg, stocks beverages in our fridge for the crew. Favorites include legacy sodas, beer, spring water and sparkling water. One weekend, I took out the familiar bottles, poured the drinks into unbranded bottles and placed sticky notes on the products with proper names. What could be more minimalist than that? The packaging had been stripped clean, and the beverages allowed to shine forth in all their naked glory.
“WTF!!!” That was the first reaction that came from our kitchen area on Monday morning. Confusion and ugliness ensued. I quickly pulled together a staff meeting and assured everyone that their favorite drinks were still there – just in plain packaging. Nevertheless, there was an immediate rush to the local big box store, and the fridge was restocked with branded products. It’s as if, without the label, they couldn’t trust or even try what was inside the bottle. Or maybe they didn’t trust me. I’m not sure.
Minimalism has been a popular packaging design trend in recent years. In an age of over-saturation, getting back to the undecorated products is supposed to strike a note of difference and sometimes luxury. Advertising, after all, is thought of as something “too mainstream” for some consumer groups.
Great in theory, but how about in practice?
A REALITY CHECK ON MINIMALISM
There’s a narrative out there that says, people are sick of the barrage of messaging and graphic overreach they encounter, whether in retail or online. The minimalist aesthetic offers a no-BS alternative and a clear space on the shelf that can draw the consumer’s eye amid all the visual noise. By refusing to try too hard, brands believe that they are hitting a more authentic note.
There’s also a school of thought that says, minimalism in packaging (fewer labels, less decoration) translates to environmental responsibility. This is true in some cases, and if sustainability is the aim of the design. But it shouldn’t’t be assumed a package is more sustainable just because it has a cleaner look.
For all of minimalism’s advantages, there is a danger in this form of branding. As one report puts it, “…minimalism can be useful in clarifying a product’s unique selling points, but poorly thought-out minimalism can simultaneously slip into bland branding – or ‘blanding.‘”
Remember my bottle experiment? I blanded my beverage supply to the degree that nobody wanted to drink it. What was missing? The branding—that trusted comfort zone consumers need to make a purchasing decision.
THE OPPOSITE OF MINIMALISM? GO NUTS!
Observing package design over the last year, I found a wonderfully refreshing alternative to minimalism. I’ll call it maximalism, though the brand may prefer to simply call it “going nuts.”
I’m thinking here of Nuts.com. They took a 180 from minimalism and created a conversation and a personality by writing all over their packaging, from the outside corrugated box to the inside packs. Their innovation? They broke the classic marketing rule that says, “Don’t pun off your brand name.” Their packaging is replete with such puns, urging consumers to get a little nutty.
Rather than old-fashioned and overdone, it seems witty, human, humorous, and inviting. Even the characters are endearing. What could be more current than that? This design thinking dares to turn the tables on convention. And it’s working.
To learn more about FORCEpkg, visit https://www.forcepkg.com