‘Thanks to impressive print, brands can seduce consumers into a change of purchasing vote at the point of purchase,’ says Superbrands founder Marcel Knobil, acclaimed worldwide as an independent arbiter of branding excellence. ‘We would end up with less brand and more bland were it not for the attention that the packaging attracts.’
The impact of a winning combination of text and graphics extends way beyond the initial beauty parade. As well as being the ‘eye candy’ that hooks the consumer in the first instance, a perfectly reproduced external image often provides consumers with subliminal product recognition that can be the brand owner’s banker in a congested retail space.
Today’s packaging trends are driven by longer supermarket opening hours, continually enhanced print technologies and a demand to protect brands and increase recognition. Not only surviving but attaining preferred choice status under such testing conditions is one half of the brand owner’s challenge. The other is to meet it at an affordable cost.
With the high probability of colour variations occurring not only between different substrates, but also print processes – and indeed from one printer to another in different locations, even when running presses made by the same manufacturer – maintaining consistency can be a complex undertaking.
The best way to meet it is to ensure that all contributory links within the supply chain are able to interact via an open entry web-based platform.
‘Our vision is to connect the supply chain from the brand owner to the retailer and to make that flow broader and richer,’ says Jef Stoffels, Esko marketing director.
‘We do this by adding greater functionality which meets the go-to-market and quality needs of consumer goods businesses and retailers. We also make it possible for brand owners to ensure that the flow of data is secure, that mistakes and errors are picked up early or avoided altogether, and get products to market faster.’
Similarly web-based colour management systems can extend the same degree of comfort and control to brand owners over how predetermined colour parameters are replicated accurately irrespective of substrate or supplier, ensuring a guaranteed consistency of colour reproduction that underpins brand authenticity and integrity. The X-Rite PantoneLIVE colour management solution is ideal for the brand owner as it has control over the predetermined colour parameters, these are then stored in the cloud for use as and when required. This ensures accurate replication of the accredited brand image irrespective of substrate or supplier.
Pressed to perform
Converters equipped with smart production facilities can be more directly instrumental in achieving cost and performance benefits to brand owners. Using high-definition flexo plates and software technologies, it is now possible to meet the requirements of 85% of current flexo-printed, flexible packaging without detriment to the finished result from CMYK + white rather than using special inks.
‘Workingfrom a reduced colour palette means fewer plates and less waste ink. It ticks a lot of boxes,’ comments Ultimate Packaging (UK) sales director, Chris Tonge. ‘While global players like Unilever and P&G have been specifying such solutions for the past 10 to 15 years, smaller brands are realising the cost advantage in controlling colours by setting the right standards.’
Sparking improvements in traditional analogue press technology (flexo and litho) is the increasingly potent challenge posed by digital print; not least in meeting brand owner requirements for cost-efficient shorter run lengths and the ability to differentiate products on-shelf through customisation. While affordably utilising variable data has always been part of the digital print proposition, it’s now clearly on the retail marketing radar following successful adoption by high-profile retail marketing campaigns run by Coca-Cola, Heineken, Nutella and a steadily growing band of blue-chip brands.
‘The combination of technological muscle and marketing inspiration is what it takes to make customisation fly,’ says Paul Randall, HP’s business development manager. ‘It’s breaking away from the mindset of packaging being the static bearer of logos and ingredients tables and using it as a media opportunity for consumer engagement. The media landscape has changed. It is becoming increasingly fragmented between above the line spend (bought media), PR and below the line (earned media), and packaging (owned media) – with the latter two increasingly linked together. Not surprisingly, brand owners are now regular visitors to HP’s Graphics Experience Centre in Barcelona.’
Likewise Xeikon’s technology centre in Antwerp. ‘For brand owners attending our Xeikon Café programme, it’s a two-track learning curve,’ says Labels & Packaging marketing director, Filip Weymans. ‘First, understanding how the benefits of digital production can be translated into diversifying communication towards the audience they’re reaching out to; and second, how the technology can address needs within their business models, notably, being faster to market and making better use of working capital.’
‘FMCG companies should be more proactive in going out and talking to packaging converters and the packaging industry should be addressing these issues and coming up with solutions,’ says Doug Hutt, SABMiller global packaging manager.
The finishing touch
Customisation is not the only route to catching the consumer’s eye. Short-run, cost-effective special effects such as high gloss, glitter, metallic without recourse to hot-foil stamping and even Braille are also within the remit of next-generation digital post-press enhancement technology now establishing itself within the finishing sector. Also providing a more cost-effective means of achieving greater stand-out is the take-up of cold foiling using the analogue process, notably as an alternative to laminated/metallised substrates for labels and cartons.
At the higher end of the scale, the arresting 3D effect achieved through the use of Fresnel lens technology provides instant ‘stand-out’ for cartons containing a global gin brand such as Bombay Sapphire. It’s obviously more expensive than normal foil, but offers significantly greater impact.
‘The adoption of online-oriented technologies is pointing the way towards next generation applications aimed at facilitating greater engagement between brand and consumer,’ says Sun Branding Solutions’ packaging technology director, Gillian Garside-Wight. ‘Who would have thought that the Apple watch would be available five years ago? Brand owners need to deliver what consumers want including smarter packs that integrate with a digitally driven smarter life-style.’
Quite a number of applications on the market bring into play mobile technology. For example, on-pack augmented reality (AR) applications pioneered by Blippar that allow users to simply look at an object through the camera on their smartphone to activate an instantaneous digital search and draw down information from the web. In a recent campaign for Perrier, the invitation to consumers to shake their phone like a cocktail shaker to reveal a recipe was a typically innovative way to highlight the overall concept and add fun by using the technology to unique advantage.
Rather than position an icon on-pack to facilitate interaction, UK-based prepress specialist Reproflex3’s PackLinc scanning technology embeds a hidden code within the ink itself, enabling the consumer to effectively treat the entire pack as a portal. A recent application of the system received EFIA (European Flexographic Industry Association) and the Starpack gold awards last year. Says Debbie Waldron-Hoines, EFIA director, ‘Brand owners need a deeper understanding of the processes so that they can help make considered decisions on what is best suited for their brand. Both flexo and digital can work wonderfully together to enhance the brand.’
Underpinning product security and thereby underpinning brand integrity is another obvious avenue being explored by smart technologies. A fully printed near-field communication sensor tag (NFC) developed by Thin Film Electronics for Diageo’s Johnnie Walker whisky doubles as a security and anti-counterfeiting device as well as interacting with smartphones to dispense product advice and information.
As a lot of the labelling and pre-printed information currently required to be displayed on-pack is gradually phased out, just imagine the potential for branding afforded by that freed-up real estate. Brands are currently getting maybe only 40% of the pack’s surface for its primary purpose. However, if one small interactive barcode resolves all the regulatory and legal requirements 90% of the print surface could be released for marketing the product.
‘Ironically, the most practical bridge linking brand and consumer might simply entail upgrading the humble linear barcode into a 2D format,’ says Domino’s Craig Stobie. ‘Brand owners are yet to fully realise the potential in having a machine-readable code that not only contains a lot more data but with the same footprint or smaller than a human-readable, but can also actually be cheaper.’
‘Whether it’s products that communicate with your tablet or temperature or time sensitive thermochromic inks that indicate when your lager is perfectly chilled or provide the reassurance that prepacked meat is safe to eat, the facility for interactivity ticks all the right boxes for forward-looking brand owners,’ says Eef de Ferrante, MD of the Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA).
‘Brand owners need to meet the challenges faced by counterfeiting, product security in the supply chain, consumer engagement and ‘big data’ management. Brand protection and better marketing of their products are major starting points towards averting potential reputational damage and simply saving money.’
Eye-catching and innovative printed packaging is a shrewd investment towards building a loyal and enduring customer-base. While consumers are exercising greater versatility than ever before in choosing how and where they gather information through which to determine product preferences, packaging offers the brand owner a guaranteed opportunity to control how they communicate with prospective customers in-store at the very point of purchase. No surprise then that the ways in which the package is printed will occupy centre-stage at drupa 2016.