How Prioritizing Packaging Leads to Better ROI

Jonathan Kenyon, Co-Founder

Jonathan Kenyon, Co-Founder


Gone are the days of commanding half the nation’s attention with a single big-hitting, budget-swallowing ad. The harsh reality is that no matter how hard you try with your TVC, it will pass the majority of people by.

But if you can get a consumer to hold your pack in their hand, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to guaranteed success.

Done right, packaging is far more than just a physical container and a transportation tool for a product: as we point out here, research has shown that a staggering two-thirds of consumers base their impression of a brand solely on its packaging.

How packaging beats big ad campaigns

Of course, packaging is just part of a whole suite of touchpoints within your brand world: as we argue here, success is contingent on a joined-up, 360 approach that reaches consumers in a dynamic, layered way.

But while holistic thinking should be table stakes for any forward-thinking brand these days, there’s no reason to relegate packaging to a supporting role. In fact, putting it center-stage can deliver ROI in a much more efficient way than a big-budget ad campaign.

While shelf standout and point-of-sale differentiation are crucial for any pack design, it’s also a vital opportunity to express and amplify your brand. There are few better examples than Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, which replaced the iconic Spencerian script with popular names to encouraging gifting.

Spreading across the globe after a successful pilot in Australia, ‘Share a Coke’ demonstrated how personalization can drive desirability and collectability, and it sparked many more brand activations – but it all started with the packaging.

Bud Light packaging

More recently, Bud Light tapped into the tribalism of sport with a range of special-edition cans associated with specific NFL teams, targeting fans in their home cities. Driven by packaging alone, AB InBev saw a dramatic sales uplift as well as a surge in brand loyalty.

Why packaging gets de-prioritized

Stories like these are relatively rare not because the potential isn’t there, but because the system is broken. We see it time and time again: brands channel millions of dollars into an agency retainer to keep the machine turning and deliver results through above-the-line campaigns. That agency is focused on its own deliverables; the packaging is not part of their remit. It might as well be a brown paper bag.

The ad agency controls the calendar and the lion’s share of the budget. Typically, less than $100k will be spent on the packaging – and it’s brought to the table late in the process, subservient to an existing strategic vision. At worst, it’s only considered once ad content is well underway, leaving little room for effective design that can realise its full potential – and resulting in a disconnected campaign.

If that sounds familiar, your brand could be missing a trick: it’s only by leading with packaging that you can unlock its true value as a core media channel. By briefing in the packaging earlier and making it a cornerstone of the strategy, it can be considered in tandem with the ad campaign and provide an even better return on investment.

What an effective packaging campaign looks like

Brands can achieve substantial uplift through packaging alone. According to Diageo, for instance, Vault49’s limited-edition Baileys Strawberries & Cream packaging was the single most significant factor in the LEP exceeding its target revenue growth by 50%.

“We broke the design rules for this project, experimenting with a different approach to achieve shelf impact and create desire,” explains Jeremy Lindley, Global Design Director at Diageo. “It worked. The product innovation received less advertising support than any previous project – and sold 50% more. We attribute its success to the standout design, which has now set the pattern for future innovations.”

Another example is Häagen-Dazs, which reversed a sales slump with a vibrant reimagining of its portfolio. Ditching glitzy gold ornamentation for a more refined, authentic aesthetic that better encapsulates ‘luxury’ for millennial consumers, the redesign featured bespoke artwork for each flavor as part of a quietly confident brand language.

As well as boosting both sales and brand awareness, the packaging-led redesign empowered the brand to express itself more creatively across the globe, with activations ranging from a pop-up art gallery in New York to fashion collaboration at Shanghai Fashion Week.

Packaging is more than just a sales driver

With consumers having ever-increasing control over the media – and advertising – they consume, taking a packaging-first approach recognizes the fact that the majority of purchasing decisions are made in-store. The shelf is the most hotly contested ad-space real estate, but it’s rarely given the attention it deserves.

And the value of packaging extends beyond its point-of-sale effectiveness. After purchase, at the very least it will be stored until consumption as a constant brand presence within the home, but at best it can become a desirable, collectible item in its own right that keeps delivering for your brand long after the ad impressions have faded away.

Oatly Back of Pack

It may take months to hone that killer line of ad copy, but back-of-pack copy could stay with a consumer for much, much longer. Consider Oatly, the brand copywriting poster child of the moment. Its packaging copy receives every bit as much attention as its ATL campaigns, and they feel part of the same vision.

At its best, packaging will sell a brand without any support. It can create strong emotional connections, tell stories, and encourage a consumer to reach out and touch the pack. That’s more than half the battle won.

Get your packaging right, and you don’t have to explain the brand further. In fact, consumers can fall for your brand simply by holding a pack in their hand. Isn’t it time to invest the time and budget into capitalizing on that opportunity?

Jonathan Kenyon, Co-Founder