Ten Roles for Product Packaging

Sometimes we don’t pay any attention at all to a package. We rip it open without giving it much thought. Yet on an unconscious level, there are so many cues and messages being communicated to us, that we aren't thinking about how the package influenced our purchase decision. Packaging is a powerful element influencing why we purchase but often it fades into the background as if it were an afterthought. 

An experienced product or marketing manager is making many conscious decisions to lead you to purchase. How they leverage the packaging choices can be the difference between product success or failure.  The following isn't an exhaustive or complete list but some thoughts to get you to pay attention and think about why messages are coming your way. 

Packaging can help protect a product from damage.  Eggs.

Packaging can help extend the shelf life of food and beverage through consistent control of atmosphere.  Shelf stable meat snacks or EMAP (equilibrium modified atmospheric packaging). 

What’s in the package? What are you buying. Can the package play a role in cleverly communicating what is for sale or what the store sells?  Ear buds for iPods. Paperclips for Staples. 

Packaging can help make opening easier or to make it portable or lightweight.  Soup tubes are a recent innovations starting to show some thinking outside of the can.  


The package can help frame a products value, meaning or purpose.  When I gave my wife a new computer for her birthday, there was a sense of reverence and excitement opening this Mac Air. She never had that experience opening a Dell or Gateway. 

It can help connect with an important consumer value like protecting the environment like weight glass, cork made of sugar cane or a water bottle made from recycled plastics and alternative materials. 


The package can be a core element of how a brand is differentiated versus its category. Doug van Praet writes extensively about this idea in his book Unconscious Branding  -  How can you disrupt the pattern?  Travaglini's Gattinara shaped bottle is so easy to remember that I can ask my 86 year old Mom to get it for me at the store and she will be able to easily pick it off the shelf. Same is true for the pink sweetener Sweet n' Low. 


it can transport the purchaser/user to an emotional state, place or set of feelings.  Corona takes you to the beach with their bottle-wrapped branding. 


It can offer cues (sound, visual, aroma) that signal and establish connection to a brand’s essence. Sun Chips had a bag that was biodegradable and very loud and noisy. It didn't succeed with adults but kids loved it. Dr. Pepper's flip top can lid makes a distinctive pop that is different than Coke and Pepsi. And Nike Air is wrapped - in air. 

A package can make the product special or give it a unique convenience. It solves a problem that you may have like, I want to drink this wine now but I don't have a glass. Who hasn't burnt their hands on hot pizza? Serengeti Tea replaces the tea bag and makes the stirrer the tea bag. Packaging can solve problems or consumer pain points.  

How are you using packaging to innovate, differentiate and shift the conversation in your category?  When you choose one package format, structure or material over another, you have made an intentional branding choice. 

Are there other roles for packaging I missed?  Help me think outside the box. 

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