Luxury comes in numerous different guises, from methuselahs of vintage champagne through to diamond encrusted watches. But what ties these disparate, expensive and highly desirable items together is the way that they are sold to consumers. Luxury items – or, for that matter, one-off special editions – need to be presented in luxurious surroundings; simply sticking a label on a bottle of vintage whisky doesn’t make it stand out from competitor brands nor does it necessarily tell the unique story behind the content. However, if you encase it in an aged leather case replete with brass hinges the consumer knows they can expect to experience something special inside.
Luxury packaging, therefore, is a key component when it comes to selling luxury items. But high-end special-edition packaging can end up being an expensive mistake if you don’t know what you are doing. So what pitfalls should brands looking to embark on a luxury packaging campaign watch out for and what measures can they take to ensure their product is a hit without busting the budget?
Before looking at the nuts and bolts of how to successfully undertake a high-end packaging campaign, companies need to establish how they are going to measure the success of their packaging and whether or not a limited-edition packaging approach is right for their brand in the first place.
Patrick McDermott, marketing director at The Design Group, suggests a simple rule of thumb to aid in the decision making process. “An effective special edition should have an impact on sales and brand perception that continues after the special edition pack has sold through and is no longer on shelf. Otherwise the brand is merely buying short-term sales uplift – in which case it is better to avoid the complexity of a limited edition and go for a straightforward discount or promotion.”
McDermott adds that for a limited-edition packaging campaign to be successful it must have two key ingredients: it must be relevant to the brand and needs to be engaging and “reward the consumer for interrupting their mental space”.
The best approach
Some brands mistakenly believe a provocative approach is a sure-fire winner but while it may attract column inches in the media it’s not necessarily the best tactic for everyone. McDermott advises against the use of shock tactics except when it is consistent with a brand’s existing image.
“Being provocative for its own sake might deliver a short-term PR boost but will have a long-term negative impact on the brand if it is not consistent with its values.”
McDermott adds that luxury packaging or special-edition one-offs should be part of a long-term play – if they’re executed correctly they can play a vital role in terms of widening awareness of a product and lead to increased sales.
“So if, for example, you’ve got a bottle of perfume and you want to do a Christmas special it’s more likely to sell if you put it in special packaging that stands out from the crowd,” explains Paul Marsh, general manager of Magellan-Synergie’s packaging division.
Such tactics will help to attract not just new customers but will also appeal to current brand followers, according to Huddersfield-based Progress Packaging account manager Liam Donaghey. “Often these special editions are marketed towards existing customers who are already sold on the brand, so it often means that they spend more money to make sure that they have the special edition pack.”
All of the evidence suggests that bundling a product up in a special piece of packaging can be an incredibly effective tactic, but the process is not without its problems, cautions Donaghey. “Often for high-end luxury the runs are small but the design is very difficult. 3D visuals which are already sold into the client can be very difficult to achieve and often there has to be a compromise to make the pack manufacturable.”
This compromise is often around the choice of materials used. Magellan-Synergie’s Marsh says that one of the biggest challenges when working on a luxury packaging project is finding the right material to reflect the value of the product. He cites a recent example of a job that the company was commissioned to undertake.
“We were asked to create packaging for a premium bottle of spirits that was more than a hundred years old and there are only a dozen or so bottles in existence, so it was going to sell for in excess of £100,000. We had to find a box to perceive that value. In the end we chose napa leather with brass hinges that was foil blocked and aged to make the packaging look as old as the product.”
The materials problem is one familiar to controversial independent Scottish microbrewery BrewDog, which hit the headlines earlier this year with the packaging for a new beer christened The End of History. With an alcohol content of 55% ABV and a price tag of £500 a bottle and upwards, the company wanted to present its limited-edition beer in a memorable piece of packaging. So BrewDog employed the services of a taxidermist called Tony Armitstead to stuff the bottles into seven stoats, four squirrels and a hare, which were dressed in different outfits.
James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, admits that the process was “tough and expensive”, with the company speaking to 20 different taxidermists before it found one who was “crazy enough to help”.
While some accused the company of using cheap shock tactics to generate publicity for the brand, Watt says BrewDog was trying to convey a serious message with the choice of packaging.
“We want to push the boundaries and challenge people’s perceptions about what beer is and how it can be enjoyed,” explains Watt. “We ultimately want to show people there is an alternative to the mainstream generic beers and make other people as passionate about craft beer as we are.
“The impact of The End of History is a perfect conceptual marriage between art, taxidermy and craft brewing. The bottles are at once beautiful and disturbing – they disrupt conventions and break taboos, just like the beer they hold within them.” While BrewDog spent a lot of money on packaging its bottles – they sold out in double quick time – sometimes you can achieve a lot by spending less.
The price of perfection
“We’ve just done three mock-ups for the launch of a new perfume and the boxes cost £400 each,” explains Magellan-Synergie’s Marsh. “When it’s eventually running, the job will cost £8-£10 each. At the same time we’ve just done a box for a new iPhone accessory that’s going to retail for £100 but the boxes only cost about £1 each. However, the perceived value is a lot higher.” As the example cited above underlines, the perfumery sector is unlike most others – the amount of money allocated to packaging a product can almost be a bottomless pit with companies chasing the most exotic, eye-catching design possible.
However, one industry that perfume manufacturers could learn a lot from is the cosmetics sector. It successfully pulls off the trick of keeping a tight rein on packaging costs, with unit prices typically coming in well under £1, yet still manages to exude an air of luxury. Brands like Clinique, Creme de la Mer and Elemis may charge a lot for their wares in luxury department stores but they achieve this despite spending surprisingly little on their packaging – they simply take advantage of standard size bottles and jars and use clever, well-thought-out graphics to convey their brand values.
“Skincare companies tend to go for a classic jar design and add their own logo or style,” explains Vetroplas managing director John Anderton. “If you start going into bespoke design for glass it can cost you a lot of money because you have to pay for things like moulds. However, if you opt for a 30ml cylindrical glass bottle that’s a standard item and there are people out there making a million of these at a time, you’re just taking a batch of that. So your basic starting point is not massively expensive.”
Too often in packaging customers want champagne results for beer money but that isn’t always possible (especially with the price of print generally on the increase thanks to the rise in raw material costs). However, if you know what you’re doing you can get something that looks fantastic and doesn’t cost a fortune, as Anderton concludes: “You can spend a huge amount of money on packaging and not be any more successful than if you’re a bit more astute and use something that is classically styled, then add something on top such as foil blocking or a print.”
The key lesson to remember is that while luxury goods may come at a premium, luxury packaging need not.
LUXE PACK 2010
It’s a veritable smorgasbord. A collection of some of the finest and most luxurious examples of high-end packaging all bundled together under one roof. For anyone serious about luxury packaging the annual Luxe Pack jamboree in Monaco, France, which this year takes place from 20-22 October, is the date in the business diary that cannot be missed. With just shy of 6,000 people from around the world attending last year’s show, organisers are expecting even greater visitor numbers this time around, thanks in large part to the wide-ranging mix of activities on offer.
In addition to the exhibition halls, this year’s show features – for the first time – an innovation forum, with Luxe Pack exhibitors presenting informative workshops on the new innovations that will shape the future of packaging (a timetable of workshops is available to view on the Luxe Pack website). There will also be a full conference programme running across the three days as well as ‘Class Room Sessions’. These training sessions, which are targeted at key decision makers and will be hosted by global experts in their respective fields, cover ‘the digital luxury revolution’ and packaging trends for 2012 – the sessions require a registration fee of €59.80.
Luxe Pack 2010 details
Luxe Pack, which takes place at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, France, runs from Wednesday 20 October to Friday 22 October.
The show is open 9.30am to 6pm
Attendance is free and visitors can pre-register for an exhibition badge on the Luxe Pack website.
For further information about the show, including travel details on how to get to Monaco, visit www.luxepack.com